Once America's TV sweetheart and movie-of-the-week regular, Valerie Bertinelli returns to the smallscreen after a four-year hiatus in this Hallmark Channel thriller about a psychic mom who helps solve a small-town murder spree.

Once America’s TV sweetheart and movie-of-the-week regular, Valerie Bertinelli returns to the smallscreen after a four-year hiatus in this Hallmark Channel thriller about a psychic mom who helps solve a small-town murder spree. The real crime here is that an otherwise respectable crew of actors have to follow such a preposterous script.

Pic will still draw plenty of viewers, most of them likely curious to get a look at Bertinelli at her pre-Jenny Craig weight. Anyone with an appetite for a good mystery, however, will surely have it squashed.

Playing a psychic doesn’t seem too far a stretch for Bertinelli, who was once “Touched by an Angel.” But if “Medium” is a show that treats precognition with savvy and dramatic flair, Claire uses it as a handy tool for meal planning — that is, until the unforeseen death of her husband during a fishing expedition. Now living in her husband’s childhood home, she and her two young daughters have to sort through the old house as well as his slightly checkered past.

When the sleepy little town is suddenly hit with a string of seemingly random murders, Claire’s gift allows her to see bits of the puzzle, but she can’t seem to piece any of it together. She begrudgingly helps the new sheriff try to solve the case, but all clues point to her new love interest, Ben (Fredric Lane).

The premonition plotline is not the only way in which J.C. Belmont’s script strains credibility. There’s no sense of the passage of time, so characters who face tragic loss are given head-scratching dialogue and behavior. In fact, the most important speeches or moments of emotional revelation are dealt with sarcastically or with incredible insensitivity.

Exacerbating the script problems, director Stephen W. Bridgewater moves the story along at breakneck speed. Supposedly important clues and scenes appear at a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pace, if not as random afterthoughts. The actors do as much with the script as possible, although by the ridiculous denouement, it appears everybody is just waiting for it all to be over.

Too often, however, it seems as if the camera is trying to hide any full-body shots of Bertinelli behind objects and big coats. As with an unplanned actress pregnancy, weight appears to be something to hide at all cost.

Tech credits are solid despite noticeably bad hair-dye jobs on both Bertinelli and Lane.

Claire

Hallmark Channel; Sat. Aug. 11, 9 p.m.

Production

Filmed on location in Los Angeles by RHI Entertainment and Alpine Medien Prods. in association with Larry Levinson Prods. Executive producers, Robert Halmi, Jr., Larry Levinson; co-executive producers, Peter A. Marshall, Nick Lombardo, Michael Moran; producers, Brian J. Gordon, Erik Olson; director, Stephen W. Bridgewater; writer, J.C. Belmont.

Crew

Camera, Brian Shanley; editor, Craig Bassett; casting, Penny Perry, Amy Reece. Running time: 120 MIN.

Cast

Claire Bannion - Valerie Bertinelli Maggie Bannion - Sasha Pieterse Sherriff Birch - Ray Baker Harry Bannion - Peter Jason Helen Bannion - Emma Prescott Bunny Holden - Micole Mercurio Ben Goodrow - Fredric Lane

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