Cable thriller is intriguing but murky

MEDIA MONITOR

March 18, 1992|By Steve McKerrow

Most people have experienced that odd sensation of not quite feeling themselves. But what if you woke up one morning and really were somebody else? What if your memories had been replaced by somebody else's?

"Duplicates," the latest original film premiering on the USA cable network tonight at 9 o'clock, offers that science-fiction premise in a thriller style intriguing enough to help you overlook some flaws of execution.

Gregory Harrison ("Trapper John, M.D.") and Kim Griest ("Brazil") play a couple whose minds are meddled with, and veterans Cicely Tyson and Kevin McCarthy portray a pair of scientists whose work leads them into a modern version of "Frankenstein."

The setup is complicated, and too much should not be given away here. But here are the basics:

Bob and Marion Boxletter (Mr. Harrison and Ms. Griest) are spouses in mourning over the apparent deaths a year earlier of their 9-year-old son. The boy and his uncle, Marion's brother, went on a camping trip and simply disappeared.

But on a business trip to New York, Marion suddenly sees her brother -- or thinks she does. The man claims not to know her, but she becomes obsessed with the apparent double and eventually learns he lives in a small town in upstate New York. And when she and Bob arrive there to investigate further, they encounter a young boy in a restaurant who seems to be their son.

What they have stumbled upon is a U.S. government experiment in memory transference, originally aimed at replacing criminal mentalities with "clean" mental patterns. But the high ideals of the scientists, especially of Ms. Tyson's character, have been diverted into more nefarious channels.

Now, the details of the experiment are never made very clear. Especially murky -- indeed, we never get a clue -- is how the boy and his uncle became victims in the first place. A killing early in the film isn't well explained, either, and the movie's climax descends into a gratuitous burst of violence.

But "Duplicates" manages to retain interest for its focus on some curious questions: Where lies the dividing line between memory and personality, or "soul"? And can the power of love transcend mere brain waves?

*

ALSO WORTH WATCHING -- Have you caught "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" yet? The new ABC series (at 9 p.m. on Channel 13), is exceptionally high quality TV.

Tonight, the 10-year-old Indy (Corey Carrier) encounters former President Theodore Roosevelt (James Gammon) in Africa, in 1909, where the bully adventurer is hunting specimens for the Smithsonian.

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