Kisses for `Cate,' but kiss off Carey

Preview: Comedy-drama is mostly on target, but `Geppetto' loses by a nose. No lie, `Geppetto' is wooden

May 06, 2000|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Let's take the glass-is-half-full approach to this weekend of "sweeps" programming: At least there's one production that rises to slightly above average.

I'm talking about "Cupid & Cate," the 205th Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation, a made-for-TV movie that begins as a romantic comedy and ends as a family drama. While the drama part has some of the film's strongest moments, it's also where "Cupid & Cate" ultimately compromises its vision and turns to greeting-card mush.

But, until that happens, you've got just under two hours of solid performances by fine actors. I know, a "solid" performance might not sound like something to get excited about. But compared to the acting in such "sweeps" fare as "The '70s" last week and most of what's to come in the next two weeks, believe me, you should get excited about the performances in "Cupid & Cate."

It's a splendid cast: Mary-Louise Parker, she of the kind-of-shy smile, stars as Cate De Angelo, owner of a small consignment shop in Washington and the youngest of four sisters in a family headed by her widowed father (Philip Bosco). She is also the fiancee of a young attorney (David Lansbury), who comes from old money.

Cate wears a look of quiet contentment on the outside, but underneath the sweet and easy smile there are miles of issues. Most of them lead back to the death of her mother when Cate was a child. She blames her father for her mother's death, even though the woman died of a brain tumor. Her father yelled, her mother drank, and Cate still is angry at dad for her unhappy childhood.

And dad is not such a great guy. He does yell. He also publicly judges Cate against her older sisters, and Cate is usually found wanting. Francesca (Bebe Neuwirth) is a medical doctor with a family of her own. Cynthia (Joanna Going) is a fashion model who's dating a soap opera stud. Annette (Rebecca Luker) is the perfect wife and mother.

At least, Cate's father approves of her upcoming marriage, which is how you know the fiance is toast the minute Cynthia introduces her sister to another lawyer who is everything the fiance is not. In short, the new lawyer, Harry (Peter Gallagher), is life, while Mr. Former Fiance is death. But what will dad say? A hint: Cover your ears.

The film takes its most surprising plot twist once Cate commits to Harry, but it is Gallagher's performance, not Parker's, that makes this sudden turn in the couple's life credible. This is where the romantic comedy turns to drama.

The best performance is by Bosco, while the least inspired comes from Neuwirth. In fairness, though, her role is not that large. Oscar-winner Brenda Fricker is aroma-therapy for the soul in an all-too-brief supporting role as surrogate mom to Cate.

Parker is, well, solid. It would have been a much better movie if she had tried to reach for a higher note here and there and had the screenplay not insisted on changing Cate from an edgy, independent, interesting and somewhat troubled character to one so neatly nestled in mainstream, middle-class values at the end.

The nicest thing I can say about "Cupid & Cate" is that I forgot it was a Hallmark presentation until the all-too-neat-and-happy ending hit me in the face.

`Geppetto'

I wasn't fooled for a minute, though, by "Geppetto," the big-budget, big-hype, Disney musical starring Drew Carey as Pinocchio's dad. I knew from the moment Carey opened his mouth that we were headed straight to musical hell. Talk about wooden.

It's never fun to rip a kid. But I have to tell you, Seth Adkins is one of the worst Pinocchios I've ever seen, and I shudder to think how many I've seen.

By the fourth song, "And Son," which features Adkins and Carey dancing and singing through the town square, I was thinking maybe Disney would have done better going with Kathie Lee's kid, Cody, in the role. I kept wondering why they chose a kid who can barely dance to co-star with a guy who can barely sing.

And what kind of drugs was Julia Louis-Dreyfus on when she decided how she was going to play the Blue Fairy? In the scene where Pinocchio goes from puppet to kid, she looks like she's modeling her performance on Tabitha from "Bewitched." I just know there is more to the role than squishing up your nose and smiling a lot.

The most troubling aspect of "Geppetto," though, is how it starts out celebrating toys and never stops.

Trust me on this, Mom and Dad, what this musical does better than anything else is create desire for toys. This is not Disney dazzling your kids as it did with "Annie" or "Cinderella." This is Disney teaching your kids to be good little consumers and to want more, more, more of the kinds of merchandise Disney makes.

In that sense, this is American television at its socially irresponsible worst.

Weekend TV

What: "Cupid & Cate"

When: 9-11 tomorrow night

Where: WJZ (Channel 13)

In brief: Strong acting, weak ending

What: `Geppetto'

When: 7-9 tomorrow night

Where: WMAR (Channel 2)

In brief: Disney at its worst

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