Smooth as pudding, with Christopher Reeve turning in a convincing perf as a humanistic Roman Catholic priest stuck with a serial murderer’s confession, “Mortal Sins” also turns the priest into a detective. Writers Greg Martinelli and Dennis Paoli are all but home until the final five minutes when the ending’s an embarrassing snicker.
Vidpic, with director Bradford May giving it an authentic feel, kicks off with an unidentified priestlike figure yanking a dagger out of a young woman’s chest after a whopping last rites scene; viewers are alerted that something odd’s going on.
Assigned to a parish ruled over by a severe monsignor, Fr. Tom Cusack (Reeve) hears the murder confession of a wheezing man who mentions a woman victim’s name. The telefilm shoves such obstacles in Cusack’s way as his oath not to spill what he’s heard in the confessional to anyone, including the police–shades of Hitchcock’s 1953 “I Confess.”
The writers have developed a good community feel, and used one family in particular–a mother (Karen Kondazian), older daughter Maria (Roxanne Briggs), fallen away from the Church, and a younger daughter Nina (Lisa Vultaggio), who has a crush on her teacher, Fr. Cusack. It all rings like sterling.
More seemingly patternless murders occur, and Cusack, angering the cops, goes on his search for the killer with the little evidence he has: the wheeze, the confessor’s knowledge of Latin, and sets of four numbers he whispers. Suspects come and go, and viewers first learn who the murderer is; when Cusack tumbles to the identity, the script and director May’s immaculately detailed work fall apart.
Reeve is first class as the put-upon priest, and Roxanne Briggs, despite her character’s blatant shift of values that doesn’t ring true, turns in a strong interp of an angry, scared woman. As Nina, Vultaggio is a delight. Francis Guinan gives an eerie quality to his precise Fr. Simmons, Cusack’s colleague who just happens to be asthmatic.
The vidpic offers a convincing look at, of all things, moral judgment of the slaughter. Peter F., Woeste’s lensing is sharp, and Andrew London’s editing adroitly paces the mystery. Richard Kent Wilcox’s design gracefully upholds traditions. Those final five minutes, though, despite May’s care, are just plain bad.