Ken Olin redeems 'Devil' Movie: The actor's stellar performance elevates 'The Advocate's Devil' above the ranks of Sunday-night movies.

October 05, 1997|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

"The Advocate's Devil" would be just another run-of-the-mill, Sunday-night network movie, except for one thing: Ken Olin.

Olin's starring performance as a high-profile defense attorney who has hit a patch of bad luck isn't of the flashy or knockout variety that tends to get noticed by critics. Instead, it's one of those almost invisible acting efforts that make you forget about the actor and believe in the character instantly -- the kind you almost always seem to get with Paul Newman.

Olin's character, Abe Ringel, is not an easy guy to believe in or, possibly, even care about. He's a widower who lives with his 18-year-old daughter in a suite of rooms over his law office.

Ringel is still in pretty good financial shape, and he still has a big reputation, but he's lost a series of cases in the last year. He's also lost his wife, who died in an auto accident, though there's some question as to whether she might have committed suicide after possibly finding out about him and his assistant (Mariska Hargitay) sleeping together.

Let's just call him complicated, and his life gets a lot more complicated when what seems like a dream case falls in his lap. It involves defending a superstar basketball player who's charged with rape.

At first, his client seems blessedly innocent. Wouldn't that be nice? But it's way too nice to be true in Abe Ringel's world.

The worst thing about the film is that it is based on a book by high-profile defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, who owns a piece of the production. That results in a lot of needless dialogue, situations and legal explanations -- a kind of internal PR campaign -- aimed at convincing viewers that some defense attorneys are highly ethical.

(Of course, Dershowitz, of the O. J. Simpson defense team, is just the guy to make that case.)

It's all unnecessary, because Olin is so convincing in his depiction of Ringel as a man of ethics.

Olin, who played a character on the acclaimed "EZ Streets" last year who gave new meaning to the term "strong, silent type," has learned to use his body as an acting instrument as well as anyone on television. He doesn't need Dershowitz's phony words.

There's a scene tonight in which Ringel's daughter tears into him with a speech about how disillusioned she's become with him as a lawyer and a human being. Watch Olin's face and body as he sits there silently taking it, and you will see at least a half-dozen emotions play across the screen.

In a phone interview this week, Olin said Ringel is a cross in some ways between the silent, archetypal character on "EZ Streets" and his very verbal Michael Steadman of "thirtysomething." He also said there's talk of Ringel living on as the lead of a weekly drama series.

I don't think another lawyer in prime time is something America desperately needs. But I'll take him in a minute if he's played by the Ken Olin who stars in "The Advocate's Devil."

'The Advocate's Devil'

When: 9 to 11 tonight

Where: ABC (WMAR, Channel 2)

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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