TV’s obsession with murder gets another feeding with a four-hour telefilm “inspired by a true story,” as the legend goes. It boils down to a good cop swamped by corruption trying to nail a prominent, powerful Chi lawyer for the murder of his wife. Thanks to forceful Brian Dennehy as the bulldog policeman and to Embeth Davidtz as the victim, the first, dizzying two hours of “Deadly Matrimony” are an attention-grabber; after that, it’s flatfoot work.
The storyline plays familiar, with an explosive Treat Williams as the lawyer-husband who’s jealous, self-centered and off his feed.
The character, strutting around with most of the Windy City’s top cops, judges and politicians in his pocket, goes into fits over imaginary and not-so-imaginary acts by his charming wife Davidtz.
The four-hour exercise never intros Williams’ first wife, whom he divorces to marry and torment Davidtz. She’s never quizzed, never visited, never even seen in the course of the investigation of the crime; rough, tough Dennehy should have had some questions to ask.
Program starts off sordidly enough by Davidtz’s decomposed corpse turning up in her car trunk at the bottom of a canal. The flashback rings in a bigtime mobster (George Morfogen), Williams’ client and sponsor in the crime world; it also brings in naive Davidtz, who falls for suave Williams.
Four of Davidtz’s experienced girlfriends–among them Lisa Eilbacher, the chief’s doll– warn Davidtz about his style, but Davidtz believes in Williams.
Near the end of Part I Davidtz finds Williams in the family bed with a blonde , which enrages her so much she indulges in adultery with Terry Kinney. The brutal Williams smashes her skull, with police chief John Jackson supplying the coup de grace; it’s up to Dennehy in Part II to unravel the case in spite of bribe offers, crooked cops, a bought judge and no witnesses.
On top of the hindrances, Dennehy’s wife, Susan Ruttan, badgers him because she thinks the dead woman reminds Dennehy of a long-lost love (“What’s driving you, sergeant?”), a point she wears thin.
The indomitable Dennehy, occasionally bursting forth to make a point, pushes through most of the action with the mien of a man assured he’ll win.
Williams gives a taut, commanding perf in a stet role and Davidtz is a pleasure as the pigeon. Xander Berkeley as a P.I. fares well, and Eilbacher’s brave friend is a good entry.
Lois Smith, playing Davidtz’s blind mother, hits the target, and Ron White as one of Dennehy’s colleague, James Blendick as a crooked judge, Robert Bednarski as Dennehy’s son, Jackson’s police chief are impressive in a surprisingly routine telling of the case scripted by Andrew Lasko and directed with little invention by highly respected John Korty.
Telefilm’s tech credits are pro.