Fans of the ’80s series are likely to question why Lt. Rick Hunter (Fred Dryer) has mellowed with age, as this two-hour reunion spec treads heavily on the prose of righteous indignation, while sacrificing the type of action for which the long-running series was known.
The lackluster telefilm takes on the hot-button issue of domestic violence and the character assassination in the media of a professional athlete (with shades of the O.J. Simpson trial).
Striving for social relevance, the producers and scripter Bill Nuss take on the media and the U.S. justice system, and attack a wide range of attention-hungry misfits who surface in the wake of a high-profile crime.
The brutal murder of Hunter’s fiancee, Vicki Sherry (Beth Toussaint), sets pic in motion and puts her ex-husband Matt Sherry (Barry Bostwick), a local sports figure with a history of spousal abuse, in the hot seat as prime suspect.
Although the murder occurred concurrent with a serial killer working the streets of L.A., Sherry nonetheless garners the attention of the cops and — more important for the story — the media. (The media frenzy when the LAPD releases Sherry after questioning is a direct rip-off of the often-played videotape of Simpson’s post-query release.)
Crews stake out the celeb’s house, asking onlookers their thoughts on the guilt or innocence of the beloved basketball coach. Hunter divines that one of these interviewees is the attention-starved serial killer, Jack Valko (Miguel Ferrer), and the murderer of Sherry’s ex-wife.
Thus the hunt is afoot, which turns exceptionally dopey as Hunter, dogged by news crews, steps on a soapbox to recap recent judicial misfires such as the outcomes of the Rodney King, Reginald Denny and Menendez brothers trials. The system often fails to get convictions: “Everybody walks in L.A.,” he indignantly proclaims.
In moments like these, Dryer comes off as a parody of the hard-charging cop he once was. Though he sells the story he’s given, and despite some glimpses of vulnerability, he remains stone-like.
An impeccant D.A. (Denis Arndt) and a requisite fired-up Captain Devane (reprised by Charles Hallahan) round out the mostly ineffectual cast. Brian Keith as Vicki’s father gives the vidpic a “Love Boat” feel, with the use of Cannell series-friendly actors gracing the small screen.
Ferrer is strong as the murderous media-maniac, but he’s given little to work with beyond the ravings of a psychotic.
Nuss uses plenty of meaningful chat to bolster the story exposition with writing that is far stronger than the performances. He also tosses in numerous moments of political correctness, apparently to keep the relevance angle alive.
Director Bradford May (also the show d.p.) succeeds in capturing the sliminess and silliness of the tabloid news biz and creatively switches from film to video to capture the immediacy — and at times lunacy — of field newsgathering. May also nails the grit of the city, while capping the show with a stylish demise of the killer reminiscent of “Sunset Boulevard.”