Investigative techniques give way to genre cliches in USA's exaggerated "Murder in Greenwich." Falling into the telepic trap of sensationalism without savvy, Dominick Dunne's first franchise project for the cabler, based on Mark Fuhrman's bestseller, delves into the shallow end of the Martha Moxley-Michael Skakel case.

Investigative techniques give way to genre cliches in USA’s exaggerated “Murder in Greenwich.” Falling into the telepic trap of sensationalism without savvy, Dominick Dunne’s first franchise project for the cabler, based on Mark Fuhrman’s bestseller, delves into the shallow end of the Martha Moxley-Michael Skakel case, which has plenty more politics, intrigue and confounding history than this execution suggests.

Fuhrman, whom many blame outright for the innocent verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial because of his perjury and supposed racist past, made a comeback with “Murder,” a memoir that started out as a just-the-facts chronicle of Moxley’s unsolved 1975 death but eventually helped lead to the conviction of Skakel in June. It was a mind-blowing length of time, considering officials have always had the weapon (a golf club), the body and someone in their sights with plenty of motive and opportunity.

That’s the shoddy research facing Fuhrman (Christopher Meloni) in 1997 when he sets foot in Greenwich, Conn., with the intention of chronicling the dormant situation. Most are uncomfortable with his reputation, so nobody is really willing to help him cull information for fear that he’ll twist it to his benefit. After ticking off the locals, busting in with attitude and criticizing the years-old police work, Fuhrman becomes committed to the accusation that finally jailed Michael (Jon Foster).

Why? While posturing, he zeroes in on hothead Tommy Skakel (Toby Moore) and his brother as the strange, violent twosome who had the only reasonable occasion to kill Martha (Maggie Grace), since they lived next door, and plenty of cause because they were involved in a puppy love triangle. Michael emerged as the main suspect because, Fuhrman discovered, he couldn’t handle Martha’s budding attraction to Tommy.

As Fuhrman, Meloni is macho almost to the point of bogus; whether he’s playing the disgraced cop as he really is or how he thinks America sees him is hard to discern. Insulting everyone and never armed with a polite word or a kind request, it’s amazing that anyone helped him at all in gathering the data.

Other supporting players are bland — both Skakel boys are portrayed as loners and rebels, but it doesn’t get much deeper than that. Robert Forster is almost invisible as the ex-lead detective who now drives a cab; his relationship with Fuhrman would have made for a much more intellectual and analytical study. The only true find here is Grace, who plays Moxley as a very likable victim who was simply in awe of the Kennedy mystique.

Director Tom McLoughlin and writer David Erickson weave overdramatic camera angles and grainy, newsreel-like footage into the story, which is narrated by Martha from beyond the grave — a really tacky idea. As for locale, New Zealand doubles as New England.

Murder in Greenwich

USA, Fri. Nov. 15, 8 p.m.

Production

Filmed in New Zealand by Sony Pictures Television and USA Television. Executive producer, Bernie Sofronski; producers, Jacobus Rose, Judith Verno, Rachel Verno, Mark Fuhrman; director, Tom McLoughlin; writer, David Erickson.

Crew

Camera, Mark Wareham; production designer, Michael Ralph; editor, Charles Bornstein; music, Don Davis; casting, Terri de'Ath. 120 MIN.

Cast

Mark Fuhrman - Christopher Meloni Steve Carroll - Robert Forster Martha Moxley - Maggie Grace Tommy Skakel - Toby Moore Michael Skakel - Jon Foster
With: Andrew Mitchell, Beth Allen, Peter Rowley, Liddy Holloway.
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