Talented playwright Keith Reddin is out of his element in this television film debut, which is part of the "TNT Screenworks" series of teleplays written by playwrights. Poor directing and weak acting add little to the plodding, aimless script.

Talented playwright Keith Reddin is out of his element in this television film debut, which is part of the “TNT Screenworks” series of teleplays written by playwrights. Poor directing and weak acting add little to the plodding, aimless script.

When novelist Austen Blair (Dennis Hopper) is shot dead in front of his private club in Manhattan, the police don’t have to look far for suspects. Elliot Burgess (Dermot Mulroney), the disturbed scion of a privileged Park Avenue family, who had been stalking Blair, turns his pistol immediately on himself.

Reporter David Leader (Eric Stoltz) is sent to cover the case, and becomes intrigued with the motivations of the murderer, who believed that Blair was revealing his family’s deepest secrets in his novels. Leader’s investigation eventually lands him in the arms of Elliot’s beautiful and mysterious sister, Emma (Jennifer Connelly).

While Reddin is aiming for a contemporary, stylish Raymond Chandler feel with loads of self-conscious dialogue, the characters are flat stereotypes, uninteresting and uninvolving. Even worse is the story, which does not travel very far from the predictable premise.

Reddin does not meet the structural demands of writing a psychological thriller, which this piece aspires to be. The result is a string of cliches, a static plot and a botched attempt at a hip tone.

Some of the fault must be placed at the doorstep of Brazilian director Bruno Barreto, who despite past successes with “Tati” and “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands” seems lost with this kind of material.

Stoltz is disappointing and drab as the reporter, and the other actors seem stranded with a woeful lack of direction.

Tnt Screenworks the Heart of Justice

(Sat (20), 10-11:30 p.m., TNT)

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by TNT Screenworks. Exec producer, Michael Brandman; co-exec producer, Barbara Corday; producer, Donald P. Borchers; director, Bruno Barreto; writer, Keith Reddin.

Crew

Camera, Declan Quinn; editor, Bruce Cannon; production designer, Peter Paul Raubertas; art director, J. Alexander Raubertas; sound, Dave Weathers, Peter Austin; music, Jonathan Elias.

Cast

Cast: Vincent Price, Dennis Hopper, Paul Teschke, Arthur Eckdahl, Dermot Mulroney, Ross Leon, Eric Stoltz, Keith Reddin, Harris Yulin, John Capodice, Katharine Lanasa, William H. Macy, Bradford Dillman, Jennifer Connelly, Gail Neely, Felicity Huffman, Hawthorne James, Joanna Miles, Richard Minchenberg, Theresa Bell, James W. Adams, Dorothy Dorian James, Issac Clay, Donald Craig, Kurt Fuller, James Sweeney, Bill Feeney, Joe Baker, Alexander Bookston, James Mathers, Richard Grant, Ken Kerman, Cynthia Gouw.
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