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Before He Wakes

Try though she might, Jaclyn Smith simply can't play a convincing heavy, even in a role where her beauty and niceties are assets, as in this overcooked telepic about a lovely sociopath who murders her husbands for fun and profit.

With:
Bridgette Smith Michaels - Jaclyn Smith Joanne - Diana Scarwid Ron Michaels - Timothy Carhart Detective Cochran - Ron Canada Diane Michaels - Barbara Tarbuck Helen - Hope Lange Ken Young - Michael Flynn Hayden Walker - Scott Wilkinson

Try though she might, Jaclyn Smith simply can’t play a convincing heavy, even in a role where her beauty and niceties are assets, as in this overcooked telepic about a lovely sociopath who murders her husbands for fun and profit. Smith’s strained damsel-in-distress shtick dovetails perfectly with a storyline that would seem wholly preposterous if it were not, as advertised, based in fact.

The good news is that the exquisite Diana Scarwid lends her understated power to an otherwise uninspired project, rising so far above the proceedings that she lifts its quality level all by herself. She is such a smart and generous actress that it’s a shame she doesn’t work more on the small screen. Or any screen, for that matter.

Based on a bestselling book by Jerry Bledsoe, “Before He Wakes” takes the shopworn female crisis telepic genre and turns it upside-down by showing a woman doing the dirty deeds rather than being the victim.

Smith stars as Bridgette Smith Michaels, a woman with a thing for hubby homicide (hubbicide?). She kills her first husband but manages to flutter her eyelashes with enough seeming sincerity to convince everyone it was accidental. Guns, after all, don’t kill people. Accidents do.

Bridgette is so grateful that she ropes herself a hopelessly naive basketball coach (Timothy Carhart). They marry, have a kid, and she starts passing lousy checks and going through money like water.

Except that her husband has no clue that they’re deeply in debt even though they live far above their means, since she pays the bills. No brain surgeon, this coach. He’s shocked when the bill collectors come calling, and soon enough Bridgette is figuring that the only way out is his life insurance money.

Enter Joanne (Scarwid), the coach’s ex-wife, who is kind, understanding, attractive, honest and … hey, why did he divorce this woman, anyway? Oh well. No brain, no pain. Good thing, because he gets killed by Little Miss Moneybags — who shoots him in his sleep. Bridgette swears it was an accident.

And the cops buy it! Again! Being an alumnus of “Charlie’s Angels” evidently allows one to get away with just about anything.

It’s left to Joanne to swoop in and ensure that justice is served in “Before He Wakes,” and Scarwid wears the role with great passion — conveying 1,000 words with just a look.

Selma Thompson’s teleplay is, however, melodramatically challenged, relying on too many cliches and failing to adequately explain just how a transparent monster like Bridgette could hoodwink the legal establishment so effortlessly.

Then again, maybe it’s not Thompson’s fault. Maybe Smith is simply unable to turn what was on the page into the sharp and charismatic portrayal that was required to make it all believable.

Helmer Michael Scott makes a commendable enough effort to bring nuance to a tired premise, but he is undone by his leading lady.

The camera work and music are adequate. Rest of the tech credits are fine.

Before He Wakes

Docudrama; CBS, Tues. Dec. 1, 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Salt Lake City by Dan Wigutow Prods. in association with CBS Prods. Executive producer, Dan Wigutow; producer, Julie Cohen; director, Michael Scott; writer, Selma Thompson.

Cast: Bridgette Smith Michaels - Jaclyn Smith Joanne - Diana Scarwid Ron Michaels - Timothy Carhart Detective Cochran - Ron Canada Diane Michaels - Barbara Tarbuck Helen - Hope Lange Ken Young - Michael Flynn Hayden Walker - Scott WilkinsonBased on the book by Jerry Bledsoe; camera, Kees Van Oostrum; production designer, Bryan Ryman; editor, Andrew London; music, Philip Giffin; sound, Les Udy; casting, La Padura and Hart, Cate Praggastis.2 HOURS

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