The “system” takes a beating in TNT’s “Deadlocked,” a hostage drama/murder mystery with an intriguing premise but little to back it up. A man takes a jury hostage after they’ve convicted his son, and insists that the prosecutor do what the public defender barely even attempted — prove his son’s innocence. Justice, it turns out, just takes a little effort, especially when there’s a 24-hour life-and-death ultimatum on the table. Piling one contrivance on top of another, and never feeling its transparent point can be made too bluntly, this telepic tires early on, and two compelling lead actors, David Caruso and Charles S. Dutton, can’t overcome the weariness of the material.
“I spent my life working for this system called justice,” says the anguished Jacob Doyle, played with a nicely restrained intensity by Dutton, to a jury that’s obviously about to sentence his son Demond (Jo D. Jonz) to death. “I know how it works. I couldn’t buy a defense, in this country where a guilty man with money gets off and an innocent boy with nothing gets sent to Hell.” Moments later, in a rash act stemming from desperation, Doyle has taken the jury, and the murdered victim’s husband, hostage in the jury room.
The only person he’ll talk to is Ned Stark (Caruso), the assistant district attorney who so ably prosecuted the case. “You are the system,” Doyle says. “You’ve got 24 hours to undo what you’ve done.” Luckily for Doyle, Stark recognizes something in the father’s eyes, a seriousness of purpose and absolute confidence that his son could not have committed the rape and murder for which he’s been convicted. Why, just that morning, it turns out, Stark had defended his own teenage son from an accusation of wrongdoing, so Caruso gets to look very understanding, which he’s exceedingly good at, but which is an expression that seems more than a tad familiar.
In this heavy-handed teleplay from David Rosenfelt and Erik Jendresen, Stark commits himself to investigating the murder anew, and has a remarkably easy time unraveling the supposedly open-and-shut case, especially once Demond himself starts speaking, which he’d refused to do during the trial, sure everything was rigged against him anyway. A heartfelt conversation with his father, and the aggressive pursuit of the truth by Stark, convinces him to provide evidence in his own defense. It wasn’t that he was guilty, you see, it’s just that he had lost faith in the system.
But will Demond’s conversion be in time? The real threat here isn’t from the hostage-taker, but from the apparently trigger-happy SWAT team, who all look very befuddled, and the stereotypical, racist jury member who hides a sharp-looking pencil up his sleeve very early on (think he’ll use it?).
The shrill arguments are presented in a purposefully low-key tone by cinematographer Thomas Burstyn, who makes everything look washed out, and director Michael Watkins, who tries to give a sense of simmering drama by using BC Smith’s pulsing, generic score. But everything here, including all the characters other than the leads, feels flat as cardboard.