Given the probability that every change has already been rung on the character and background of television’s detective community (Marple to Mannix, Kojak to Columbo, suave to slob, private eye to flatfoot), Liza Cody’s Anna Lee stories, in producer Brian Eastman’s slick vidpic adaptation, featuring actress Imogen Stubbs’ winning winsomeness in the title role, come off as an appealing, eclectic mix.
The second of A&E’s “Anna Lee” vidpix follows intrepid, elfin Anna’s quest for a video piracy mogul, and explores some ingenious blind alleys en route.
Stubbs, a Royal Shakespeare Company stalwart (Desdemona in a recent “Othello, ” directed by Trevor Nunn), gives off a dewy freshness that diverts the attention from some strange tucks in the script. Hired as a private eye by parents of a missing daughter, she brings the job to an ostensible conclusion when the girl shows up dead in a car crash.
“That’s the end of it,” reasonably states her starchy boss (John Rowe). “Not for me it isn’t,” Anna replies, her hunch mechanisms working overtime.
Eventually the hunch pans out; don’t they always? Packed with more loose ends than a month of “Columbo” reruns, Anthony Horowitz’s script finally corners bad guy Anthony Newley, who has taken on a fair amount of weight, but no particular depth, since his musical comedy days.
While the film itself skirts most of the boilerplate of the genre and adds a few whimsical touches — Anna the cat-hater, Anna doing her own repairs on her beat-up, ancient jalopy — director Christopher King’s preponderance of rather trite camera tricks (overhead shots galore) and the grinding insistence of Anne Dudley’s musical score keep much of the work earthbound.
“Dupe” is the second Anna Lee episode of the 1994-45 season; four more are scheduled.