The Movie Channel has two well-made suspense thrillers due,
based on Jack Higgins' novels about ex-assassin Sean Dillon. But this franchise is
hurt by showcasing two different actors in the starring role only two weeks apart -- Rob
Lowe in Midnight Man and Kyle MacLachlan in Thunder Point.
This disrupts the continuity, even though both actors
handle their roles well. Perhaps because he originated the role in 1996, Lowe brings more
complexity to his portrayal of the ex-Irish Republican Army terrorist coerced by British
intelligence's Brigadier Ferguson to track down other assassins.
Midnight -- in which Dillon must prevent hired gun (and
former friend) Engel, played by Hannes Jaenicke, from carrying out plots against Ferguson
and the royal family -- runs 50 minutes longer than the 95-minute Thunder. But some
side stories could easily have been trimmed, such as a Soviet subplot. After taking too
long for Dillon to learn that Engel is after Prince Charles' sons, the drama suddenly
rushes to its conclusion.
En route, we see Dillon bristle at being used by Ferguson
(Kenneth Cranham) and struggle at friendship with associate Hannah (Deborah Moore)following
his bride's murder.
Both mysteries' story lines are more complicated than
most. Unfortunately, the characters come across as cold and amoral, so we don't care
much about their fates.
Jim Reeve produced both skillfully, with the locations in
Luxembourg for Midnight and in Barbados and Montreal for Thunder adding to
the ambiance. But Chris Wiggins can't match Cranham as the new Ferguson in Thunder
Thunder Point opens with the discovery of a Nazi
briefcase, containing codes to billions of dollars in Swiss banks and documents to start
the Fourth Reich. Menacing neo-Nazis, bankrolled by a steel magnate, Armstrong (Kenneth
Welsh), try to get the case, first from its finder, then from his daughter, Jenny (Pascale
Demerits: There's a gratuitous detour to a red-light
district, where Jenny's friend is a hooker who is into mild S&M; and the
drama's denouement is both hurried and unsatisfying, as Armstrong faxes the documents
to form a Fourth Reich -- in Washington, D.C.
Midnight Man premieres on TMC May 16 at 9 p.m. (EST),
with reruns May 20 and 29, while Thunder Point bows May 30.