A very conventional look at a horrific crime, ABC’s “Our Guys” plays out like an Afterschool Special on a primetime budget. With a humdrum perf from Ally Sheedy and a dated theme — hasn’t TV already dealt more than enough with America’s jock culture? — this treatment isn’t titillating enough to be a sweeps sensation and certainly doesn’t examine reasons and rationales. Due to the overwhelming fascination with the Littleton shootings, viewers may tune in to get another fix of high schoolers-turned-bad, but there’s nothing of substance to keep them hooked.
Based on the book by Bernard Lefkowitz, “Guys” tells the true story about a group of student athletes charged with raping a mildly retarded girl in 1989. But director Guy Ferland (“Telling Lies in America”) misses the mark when it comes to the outrage and heartbreak associated with such a tragic event. Though he does get the ending right — the courtroom finale is intense — much more narrative complexity and compassion would have been suitable.
Glen Ridge, N.J., is full of wealthy parents who live for their children’s achievements. That strong support, however, comes at a price: There is a rumor that several football players, idolized within the community, lured 17-year-old Leslie Faber (Heather Matarrazo) into a basement, raped her and sexually assaulted her with a baseball bat, a stick and a broom handle while others watched. The disturbing gossip makes the rounds and even reaches home before the police are alerted.
Called in to investigate are Glen Ridge native Det. Kelly Brooks (Sheedy) and Frank Bennett (Eric Keenleyside), a veteran cop who quits the case when his son is named as a suspect.
Brooks then teams up with prosecutor Robert Laurino (Eric Stoltz), and they hit a wall of silence; everyone wants to protect the city’s wholesome image, and nobody is willing to jeopardize the bond at the expense of local heroes. They also must deal with a lonely girl’s incredibly mixed-up ideas about popularity and friendship: Leslie doesn’t harbor any hatred for the abusers and actually thinks she’s part of he crowd.
Eventually, the lies begin to unravel, and denials turn into blame. Some of the boys admit to the activity but say she was asking for it; a few use her illness as an excuse and claim she’s lying. Either way, Leslie becomes the villain in an uphill battle for justice.
Ferland has so many avenues to explore but takes little advantage of the possibilities; he covers the appropriate elements (the girl’s troubled history, the media frenzy) without building on any particular one. Paul Brown’s teleplay is stretched just as thin: He spends too much time within the world of letter jackets and cheerleaders while ignoring the reality of shattered futures.
On the acting front, “Guys” tolerates very flat turns from Sheedy and Stolz, who are unspecial as the passionate truth-seekers, and Mattarazo (“Welcome to the Dollhouse”), who isn’t very sympathetic. It’s noteworthy that all three have found recent success within the indie film arena but seem uncomfortable starring in a project lined with commercial breaks.
Tech credits are solid, highlighted by Brian Pearson’s polished lensing.