The facts make 'False Arrest' compelling

Television

October 31, 1991|By Michael Hill

If Yogi Berra were a TV critic, he would say ABC's "False Arrest" is deja vu all over again.

It was just last Tuesday that we saw a blond-haired former series star tormented by a variety of darker-complexioned inmates while serving an unjust prison term. Sunday night you get to see it again.

In the first one, it was Cheryl Ladd, framed on a drug rap in CBS' "Locked Up: A Mother's Rage" that eventually became a polemic on incarceration causing the sins of the mother to be visited upon her kids.

In this one, it's Donna Mills, wrongly convicted of masterminding a brutal murder, fighting tooth and nail to keep her false eyelashes on in prison.

A couple of scenes -- a confrontation standing in line for the phone, our heroine facing down an attacker using the seriousness of her crime as a weapon -- are virtually identical in the two movies, both of which were based on true stories.

But, while "Locked Up" had a point to make, "False Arrest" just has a story to tell. This four-hour two-parter will be on Channel 13 (WJZ) Sunday and Wednesday at 9 o'clock.

Mills plays Joyce Lukezic, a wealthy, jewel-encrusted Phoenix woman, living in a sumptuous house with her second husband Ron, played by Robert Wagner, and three kids from her first marriage. Ron runs a printing business. Joyce is the business partner of a doctor. They make lots of money.

Then one Christmas about 10 years ago, three men break into the house of Ron's business partner. After a cursory search for money and jewels, they put a bullet in the back of the heads of the partner, his wife and their daughter. The wife miraculously survives.

Political pressure is put on the district attorney's office and an overzealous investigator, Dan Ryan, played by Steven Bauer -- the script has a few in-jokes about his brief stint on "Wiseguy" -- starts pushing the case.

Convinced that this was more than a robbery gone awry, Ryan is not content when he finds the hit men. He leans on them until he's uncovered a conspiracy with Joyce at the top, eventually planning to kill her husband, too, so she could inherit the business.

The true villain is revealed at the beginning of part two. Wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, so let's just say that if there was capital punishment for bad acting, this guy would have met his years ago.

As with "Locked Up," "False Arrest" wanders amid a variety of identities -- family soap opera, women-in-prison story, muck-raking expose on the danger of the power of the prosecution, straightforward courtroom drama. But, unlike its predecessor, "False Arrest" never does settle on a distinct theme.

Indeed, sticking to the facts causes it to leave so many loose ends that its conclusion is less than satisfactory. However, the story itself is fascinating enough to allow "False Arrest" to develop a certain compelling nature despite plodding story-telling and a great deal of pedestrian acting.

*

ABC's "Primetime Live" started out with a great deal of hoopla about its blend of personalities -- cool Diane Sawyer and hot Sam Donaldson. When that fizzled the show sank into a slump.

But this season it's come out of that by relying on what always makes news programs sizzle -- good stories. "Primetime" kicked off its season with a stunning hidden-camera expose about abuses in New Orleans daycare centers.

In recent weeks, the hidden cameras told a sad, heartbreaking, all-too-true story about the different treatment white and black people get in our society as "Primetime" followed two men who went to St. Louis and got different results doing everything from browsing for shoes and records, to trying to rent an apartment.

A couple of weeks ago there was also a solid story on the racists run amok in the Los Angeles county police department.

Tonight's show, which will be on Channel 13 (WJZ) at 10 o'clock, brings back the hidden cameras as Chris Wallace takes you inside those phony abortion clinics that actually try to talk women out of having an abortion.

While it would have been a more balanced report had Wallace shown some compassion for the passion of the anti-abortionists -- perhaps he should have sought out a woman who went to one of these clinics and is glad that her mind was changed -- this is still a revealing look at false advertising aimed at a scared and vulnerable clientele. If the anti-abortionists need to use these tactics, perhaps they should re-think their message.

"Primetime," now in its third season, seems to be finding its niche amid the many news hours.

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