The ghost of Mary Richards has forever been laid to rest. Mary Tyler Moore, who in a calculated effort to take roles to dispel her goody two shoes image, has gone from the woman who could turn the world on with a smile to the woman who can creep you out with just one look. Moore stars in this low-rent psychological drama based on the true story of Sante Kimes, a marginally successful con artist, who with her son Kenny, was convicted of the murder of a Manhattan socialite.
Director Arthur Allan Seidelman provides an unremarkable account of a story that at best should have been played out as a small-screen version of “The Grifters” or at least a campy Sunday night diversion. The telepic doesn’t come close to either option.
Instead, the tale is recounted unimaginatively through a series of unconvincing flashbacks full of equally unconvincing wigs and costumes to take us up to the murder of poor clueless Irene Silverman (Jean Stapleton) in 1998.
It turns out that Sante, whom one judge refers to as “a sociopath of unremitting malevolence,” believes she deserves whatever she wants, having struggled through a horrible childhood and a string of abusive men. She’s the type of small-time swindler who has a quick comeback for any inquiry or accusation and has deluded herself into believing her own lies.
Her oldest son, Kent, is quick to tire of his mother’s behavior and refuses to participate in her various schemes and shoplifting adventures. The younger Kenny is eager for his mother’s approval and enjoys her “games.”
Sante actually lands a big fish in wealthy businessman Ken “Pappa” Kimes (Robert Forster), who despite her unrepentant behavior, marries her and treats her sons as his own. But apparently wealth and family stability aren’t enough for Sante. The law finally catches up with her and she is sent to prison for four years.
The domestic bliss she comes home to is quickly shattered when “Pappa” dies and leaves them penniless, so Sante and Kenny head to the Big Apple and big- time scams.
Moore does plenty of peacocking as Sante, and although plenty scary, it’s hardly a convincing performance. Gabriel Olds, as the adult Kenny waffles in a no-man’s land somewhere between American Psycho and Joe Preppy, never really displaying the same taste for crime as his mother.
Stapleton and Forster have the most thankless of roles, simple pawns in Sante’s game who don’t even warrant enough screen time for much sympathy.
Writer Paul Eric Meyers obviously tries to save the sympathy for Kenny, giving him wistful scenes where he tells the matronly Irene, “You seem like you would have made a nice mother.”
But that’s about as far as the character development goes. Production is as low rent as the criminals portrayed here with technical credits meeting the bare minimum.