The right star can occasionally brighten the darkest and tawdriest of roots, and unlike this week’s Donald Trump biopic, that isn’t a reference to hair. Thanks to “The West Wing’s” Janel Moloney, Amber Frey comes across more sympathetically than she probably has any right to be in this CBS made-for, which hews close enough to the court record to avoid the need-a-shower feeling that generally accompanies quickie docudramas. No one need preserve “Amber” for posterity, but it’s by no means an embarrassment, which is an accomplishment in itself.
Likely given a suicide mission against heavyweight competition, this sweeps-closing entry delivers most of its titillation during the first half-hour, when a single mom/massage therapist from Fresno, Calif., begins a sex-on-the-first-date affair with a man she thinks is a single fertilizer salesman.
As any viewer of “Larry King Live” can testify, Amber (Moloney) is soon horrified to discover that dreamboat Scott (Nathan Anderson, who bears an uncanny resemblance to his real-life counterpart) is actually married to a Modesto woman who has suddenly gone missing. Amber immediately contacts local police, who enlist her to record conversations with Scott, hoping to provide evidence as to his role in wife Laci’s disappearance.
It’s around that point, alas, that the movie mostly runs out of steam, mainly because there’s nothing incriminating in Scott’s banter, which is slightly less exciting than Pat O’Brien’s voicemail.
In hindsight, the entire media fascination with Frey hinged on the fact that she’s blond, attractive, had two kids out of wedlock and slept with the defendant, which makes for better talk radio fodder than televised drama.
Moloney nevertheless manages to invest the character with more personality than she ever exhibited in TV interviews — presenting her as a heroic victim, in her own way, of Peterson’s adulterer and serial liar. Given that the movie is derived from Frey’s book and lists her camera-chasing attorney, Gloria Allred, among its producers, that’s hardly a surprise. But it’s still something of a limbo act.
Although the second half chronicles Amber and Scott’s phone chats, there’s no sense of jeopardy and, after their initial encounter, not much sex. A minor highlight comes toward the end when Nora Dunn offers a dead-on impersonation of Allred, having filled a similar role with a cameo as Arianna Huffington in “See Arnold Run.” There’s a modest career, apparently, in being able to mimic the media’s creations.
Ultimately, “Witness for the Prosecution” is perhaps a bit too upstanding for its own good, not that it’s likely to make much of a difference against “Lost” and “American Idol.” The Peterson trial/media circus was a dispiriting affair on every level, and a TV movie about its most camera-friendly participant was inevitable, even after USA’s pre-trial take.
Let’s hope, after this, that the case will be closed.