Showtime Puts On a Happy Face


The story of a murder-mystery-loving grandmother who frames
herself in order to get an abusive boyfriend out of her life, The Happy Face Murders --
Showtime's latest original movie -- is a confusing execution of an interesting

The film -- which boasts a cast of veteran actors such as
Ann-Margret, Marg Helgenberger and Henry Thomas -- does a poor job of tying together the
various elements in the plot.

The film centers on the investigation into the murder of
Tracy Billings (Emily Hampshire), a young, mildly retarded woman who is found dead along a
remote stretch of highway.

The detective called upon to investigate, Jen Powell
(Helgenberger), and Dylan McCarthy (Thomas), a college intern also assigned to the case,
receive a phone call from Lorraine Petrovich (Ann-Margret). Petrovich fingers her abusive
live-in boyfriend, Rusty Zuvic (Nicholas Campbell), as the killer.

Petrovich is a mystery buff, and many of the interrogation
scenes in her home show her watching Perry Mason, Matlock or similar shows
as the police arrive.

She uses the knowledge gleaned from years of TV watching to
get enough information from the police to make her story seem credible, inferring facts
from the cops' questions that lead her to the crime scene, for example.

But how likely is it that someone could pull the wool over
the eyes of an experienced detective based on information obtained from Matlock?

Ann-Margret gives a strong performance as Petrovich,
straddling the fine line between kindly grandmother and desperate, slightly unstable woman
looking to protect herself and her family.

But Helgenberger is unremarkable as Powell, and Thomas --
best remembered as young dreamer Elliott in Steven Spielberg blockbuster E.T. The
-- offers a downright wooden performance.

Much of the script is often trite and clichéd -- the
relationship between Powell and McCarthy is just another wrinkle in the tired old cliché
of the hard-edged veteran cop and the wet-behind-the-ears rookie (or, in this case,
criminology student).

And Ann-Margret's performance can't overcome the
stilted dialogue provided by writer John Pielmeier.

After Petrovich confesses that her story was a lie, the
movie then abruptly switches gears, focusing on Powell's pursuit of trucker Billy Lee
Peterson (Rick Peters).

But except for a very brief cameo at the beginning, the
character who provides the film with its name does not become crucial to the story line
until more than one hour into the film. Weaving the story lines together more closely
could have heightened the suspense.

The Happy Face Murders premieres on Showtime Sept. 5 at
8 p.m.