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Murder She Purred: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery

This installment of "The Wonderful World of Disney," based on the "Mrs. Murphy" series of mystery novels penned by Rita Mae Brown, is pretty much as dumb as it gets, giving us a dog and a cat who solve crimes (Mrs. Murphy is the cat) and a starring role for Ricki Lake that makes her lowbrow daytime yakfest seem like "Frontline" by comparison.

With:
Harry Haristeen - Ricki Lake Blair Bainridge - Linden Ashby Mrs. Murphy - Voice of Blythe Danner Tucker - Voice of Anthony Clark Sheriff Rick - Bruce McGill Fitz-Gilbert Hamilton - Ed Begley Jr. Mim Sanburne - Christina Pickles Coop - Judith Scott Susan - Kari Coleman Little Marilyn - Terri Hawkes Ben Seifert - Wayne Robson Fair Hairisteen - Aaron Pearl Boom Boom - Zerha Leverman Miranda Hoggendobber - Edie McClurg

Be afraid, very afraid indeed, if the subtitle “A Mrs. Murphy Mystery” means that others are planned. This installment of “The Wonderful World of Disney,” based on the “Mrs. Murphy” series of mystery novels penned by Rita Mae Brown, is pretty much as dumb as it gets, giving us a dog and a cat who solve crimes (Mrs. Murphy is the cat) and a starring role for Ricki Lake that makes her lowbrow daytime yakfest seem like “Frontline” by comparison. Disney has been reduced to ripping off itself — or didn’t anyone see “Homeward Bound” and its sequel?

Let’s see now. Tucker, the Welsh corgi whose thoughts we hear (voice of comedian Anthony Clark), spends the whole movie in a quest for human food.

The tabby cat (voiced by Blythe Danner) rises above the canine’s base, instinct-driven nature to become the brains of the operation, so to speak.

Together, they do a passable Agatha Christie imitation despite subsisting on a diet of kibble and giblets.

The sleuthing pets actually belong to a sassy postal headmistress who has the unfortunate name of Harry (Lake), delivers gossip and routes mail in a small Virginia town. She is divorced and painfully available, which becomes all too clear when a handsome doctor with the “Dynasty”-like name of Blair Bainbridge (Linden Ashby) moves in next door. He’s a hunk all right, but he gives off this nasty impression that he’s covering up something — like a murder.

It is here that the ludicrous teleplay by Jim Cox and Ann Lewis Hamilton begins to reach full drivel. Harry (not to mention her ever-vigilant animals) strongly suspects that this “doctor” is behind the disappearance of local business dude Ben, who had strong ties to Blair. But he’s just so darn manly that Harry can’t decide whether to seduce him or run in the opposite direction, screaming for her life. A common dilemma.

The evidence points too obviously at Blair for him to be guilty, of course.

And so the film, substituting ersatz whimsy for cleverness, is content to drown in gimmicks like a pair of moronic German shepherds named Wolfgang and Amadeus (get it?), whose thoughts make them sound like “Hogan’s Heroes” rejects.

But the clincher arrives about 2/3 of the way through “Murder She Purred,” an unoriginal title for a painfully clueless and laughless saga. Our hungry hero Tucker is sniffing through dirt when suddenly he emerges with a fully formed human limb in his mouth. Harry, in horror: “That’s … Ben’s… arm!” Don’t worry.

It’s prosthetic. Kinda like the film.

Lake takes things way too seriously here to bring the movie its requisite quotient of fluffball comedy, though at least helmer Simon Wincer has the decency to avoid special-effects mouth movements for the hound and feline. And Wincer does manage to coax witty supporting performances from Ed Begley Jr. as an aristocratic louse, Bruce McGill as a Southern-fried sheriff and Christina Pickles playing an insufferable town snob.

Where things go splat is with, well … pretty much everything else. “Murder She Purred” feels strangely awkward, like a Dog Chow commercial that inexplicably went longform. Someday, we may find out what went wrong. Tech credits are solid.

Murder She Purred: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery

ABC; Sun. Dec. 13, 7 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Toronto by Ancient Mariner Films in association with Walt Disney TV. Executive producers, Amy Adelson, Brandon Stoddard; producer, Kevin Inch; director, Simon Wincer; writers, Jim Cox, Ann Lewis Hamilton.

Crew: Camera, David Burr; production designer, Wendy Morrow; set decorator, Dan Conley; editor, Terry Blythe; music, Eric Colvin; sound, Ron Osiowy; casting, Melissa Skoff, Clare Walker. 2 HOURS

Cast: Harry Haristeen - Ricki Lake Blair Bainridge - Linden Ashby Mrs. Murphy - Voice of Blythe Danner Tucker - Voice of Anthony Clark Sheriff Rick - Bruce McGill Fitz-Gilbert Hamilton - Ed Begley Jr. Mim Sanburne - Christina Pickles Coop - Judith Scott Susan - Kari Coleman Little Marilyn - Terri Hawkes Ben Seifert - Wayne Robson Fair Hairisteen - Aaron Pearl Boom Boom - Zerha Leverman Miranda Hoggendobber - Edie McClurg

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