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Two Came Back

The inherent problem with any drama that has been "inspired by actual events" is the need to create substantial plot development to surround the true story being highlighted. Despite the appealing presence of Melissa Joan Hart ("Sabrina, the Teenage Witch"), who has been perfectly cast as gritty but vulnerable 21-year-old seafaring gypsy Susan Clarkson, screenwriter Raymond Hartung fails to produce a storyline that warrants the time we spend with Susan and her fellow crew members during their ill-fated attempt to sail a 60-foot luxury sailboat from San Diego to Vancouver. Much of the early part of this pic is spent investigating the mundane, low-interest relationships of the central characters. Susan, who has been burnt out by her years of nomadic life on the water, is trying to re-connect with her mother, Patricia (Susan Sullivan), a recovering alcoholic determined to keep her daughter on dry land in order to have another chance at bonding. Complicating matters is Matt ("Savannah" regular David Gail), who is pitching Susan hard to join the crew that is being put together to deliver a state-of-the-art sailboat up north. Matt, of course, is hoping that in the course of the voyage he and Susan will bond in a much different manner.

When Susan is finally won over by the lure of the sea, she discovers some troubling elements to this supposed “piece of cake” voyage. The boat is not as seaworthy as its pretty exterior might suggest. The captain of the expedition, Rick (Jon Pennell), is lacking in leadership skills; and he has brought along his girlfriend, Allie (Susan Walters), whose only function is to share his bunk and sunbathe on deck. And the crew also happens to include Susan’s old hometown beau, Jason (Jonathan Brandis of “Seaquest DSV”), who has never lost the torch for his childhood sweetheart.

Since all aspects of these human relationships are superficial at best, the true star of this vidpic is the Pacific Ocean, which becomes increasingly more dominant to the proceedings as the crew begins its journey north. Director Dick Lowry, aided immeasurably by the camera work of Steven Fierberg and the editing of Scott Powell, masterfully chronicles the increasing on-board tension as Rick’s deficient seamanship is compounded by a devastating offshore storm that eventually sinks the boat, casting adrift the crew on a small raft with no food or water.

It is no surprise, and of little interest, that the two morally corrupt members of the crew, Rick and Matt, are driven mad and eventually devoured by the sea, and that victim-in-life Allie will die of exposure. So little had been invested in these characters by the writer and director, their individual passings become merely a countdown to the title, “Two Came Back.” And the climactic rescue evokes only the feeling of relief that this voyage-from-hell is finally over.

Despite the lack of dramatic tension, the performances are uniformly excellent. Complementing Hart’s Susan, Brandis is outstanding as Jason, who manages to find a balance between demonstrating his character’s excellent seamanship and his never-ceasing inner turmoil over his lost love. Sullivan’s angst-ridden Patricia is thoroughly believable, especially when she is hounding the Coast Guard to find her daughter. Also deserving praise is Walters, whose Allie evokes the sense of a worthwhile human being who was never given a chance.

Two Came Back

Sun. (28), 9-11 p.m., ABC

  • Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Hartbreak Films and Hallmark Entertainment in association with von Zerneck/Sertner Films. Executive producers, Paula Hart, Frank von Zerneck, Robert M. Sertner; producers Randy Sutter; co-producers, Rick Arredondo, Ted Babcock; director, Dick Lowry; writer, Raymond Hartung;
  • Crew: camera, Steven Fierberg; music, Michael Tavera; production design, Guy P. Barnes; editor, Scott Powell; costume design, Heidi Kaczenski; casting, Mary V. Buck & Susan Edelman.
  • Cast: Cast: Melissa Joan Hart, Jonathan Brandis, Susan Sullivan, David Gail, Jon Pennell, Susan Walters, Steven Ford, James Fields, Elliott Woods, Tracy Vilar.