Considering the buildup NBC is giving “Border Line” as Anthony Edwards’ production debut (through his and partner Dante DiLoreto’s Aviator Films) and the (drum roll, please) return to network TV of Edwards’ onetime “ER” co-star Sherry Stringfield, it has to qualify as a disappointment that this is an utterly ordinary crisis-of-the-week/woman-in-jeopardy telepic boasting a profound lack of imagination and realistic human response. Calling it an embarrassment would be stretching things, but it surely pushes few creative envelopes. And without the stars, the chances of this film ever being made would be, well, borderline.
Here’s the deal: Stringfield (who begged off of “ER” during the show’s third season to return to New York and the relative stability of teaching) portrays Allison Westlin, a Los Angeles-based immigration lawyer and committed workaholic who spends most of her waking moments arranging child adoptions and green cards.
It’s a life filled with smiles and fractured English. She usually stays at the office late, forcing her to rely heavily on her nanny Maria (convincing work from Elizabeth Pena) to care for her 3-year-old daughter, Linny (twins Lauren Gainer and Kaitlin Gainer).
Things move along just swell until Westlin becomes the unwitting target of a Chinese baby smuggling ring. That’ll teach her to snoop around the fringes of illegal-alien murder cases.
Thugs start firing bullets and terrorizing her in pretty much every way. But rather than frightened for her life, Westlin appears more inconvenienced that anything else. Being a target for assassination wreaks havoc with her work habits, since one aggravated assault can ruin your whole day.
When nanny Maria disappears with her daughter, the lawyer seems, well, just plain angry. After all, this kid’s a tax writeoff! Once that mystery is solved, Westlin joins the nanny and her little girl at a safe-house hideout, where time passes like molasses in Ron Bass’ tepid teleplay.
Stringfield is an accomplished actress with a natural charisma, and she proves a plucky, if perpetually annoyed, heroine. But director Ken Kwapis gives her little room to stretch her performing muscles, constructing a strained atmosphere where the implausible plot contrivance joins forces with transparent villains.
By the end, “Border Line” feels a bit too much like an INS recruitment film. The rage it inspires over the Chinese aliens being dehumanized and having their children snatched away is muted by the odd notion that a lawyer would swoop in to save the day without charging the poor saps 200 bucks an hour for the privilege.
None of this would be so unexpected were it not for Edwards’ involvement and the fact that we are seeing the film smack in the middle of sweeps. Standard made-for fare that is this terminally average is usually reserved for off-sweeps months, and that would have been the smart way to go here. But with the high profile enjoyed by Edwards and Stringfield, anonymity no longer applies in the equation. Too bad. A first-time producer deserves lower stakes than this.
Tech credits are fine.