A plea for clemency is taken to the extreme in CBS’ “In the Name of the People.” With the tearjerk lever greased up, this Eye web telepic plays a weighty sympathy card while it also condemns a gruesome murder. Sorry gang, you can’t have it both ways. And even if all inmates really were as remorseful (not to mention hunky) as Scott Bakula, heavy-handed compassion should come from a more noble project … with a better message.
The true crime is how contrived this storyline is. A couple’s daughter is killed, but they might find relief if they would care for the attacker’s little girl. Sure, it follows a well-paced route while making its points, but good intentions are blindsided by a manipulative structure and an all-too-Hollywood happy ending.
Jack Murphy (Richard Thomas) and his wife Connie (Amy Madigan) are a successful Denver twosome starting to drift apart. Their hollow feelings come courtesy of John Burke (Bakula), a white-trash psychopath who shot their daughter, Jenny (Kimberley Warnat), at close range six years earlier.
The relationship’s biggest snag is the difference in opinion they both share when it comes to justice. Jack thinks lethal injection is just plain ol’ revenge and therefore not the honest thing to do. Connie, however, is a supporter of capital punishment, and, as the head of a victims organization, she feels pressure to publicize her anger.
But their love is put to the ultimate test when Burke asks Jack and Connie to make a home for his child after he’s put to death. They need someone to cherish, he argues, and she needs a proper upbringing since grandma doesn’t have much time left.
The film that “People” is trying to imitate in terms of mercy, 1995’s “Dead Man Walking,” is in no danger, that’s for sure. That film was about the many casualties of criminal behavior, not pat conclusions. And although a few dignified themes are on display to some degree here, the backdrop is completely phony: the adoption subplot overwhelms serious issues like a family’s reconciliation and a heart’s room for forgiveness.
That’s a shame, because the lead performances are strong. Thomas’ restrained hostility is balanced nicely with Madigan’s visible rage, and her transformation from lost soul to empathy is effective. The unlucky one is Bakula, whose role is so outrageously unrealistic, you’ll wonder why anyone is afraid of ex-cons. Who knew prisoners could be so neatly groomed and ready to atone? Director Peter Levin should have been less enamored with his antihero.
Tech credits are fine, but, dramatically speaking, the final scenes (a priest reading last rights, an apology after being strapped in for the execution) come straight out of the Movie of the Week handbook.