TNT’s “Second Nature” is a mildly entertaining thriller that presents implausible scenarios galore — most notably that Alec Baldwin, looking haggard and puffy, is a sleek and agile hit man. Look too closely and all entertainment value could easily fall through any number of large plot holes.
Moreover, “Second Nature” is really just an elaborate and fanciful exploration of the nature-vs.-nurture debate disguised as a mystery-thriller. One could readily claim the argument was laid to rest with “Trading Places,” or that the killer-spy-with-amnesia logline has been thoroughly explored in a number of different films. Writers E. Max Frye and Steve Griffiths have a few surprises up their sleeves, but for the most part, “Second Nature” just plods along.
Baldwin is Paul Kane, a coma patient who awakens in a London hospital with little memory of his previous life, including the plane crash that killed his family and put him in the hospital. On hand to greet him is psychiatrist Dr. Fellows (Louise Lombard), who specializes in helping trauma victims.
As Kane mends physically, he is dogged by attorney Lawrence Augenblick (Philip Jackson), who claims the plane crash was no accident. He also is cautioned by Kelton Reed (Powers Boothe), an apparent friend and fellow American government agent who warns him not to disclose too much as his memory returns. Sensing his espionage past, Kane treads a fine line with Dr. Fellows, trying to recover his identity while maintaining an undercover persona.
Still, Kane is plagued by his own lack of sorrow over the death of his wife and children and an overall dispassion for his former life. Reed talks him into returning to work right away, but during an assassination mission in Amsterdam, Kane discovers he can’t bring himself to kill anymore. Unable to perform as an assassin, Kane is quickly labeled a liability and hunted down by Reed.
Director Ben Bolt uses the espionage theme as a vehicle for a character study, putting forth some big questions amid an elaborate plot. But Baldwin seems too detached here, never really capturing the super-spy or the tortured soul.
The “Sopranos”-like subplot of the criminal-psychiatrist relationship is enticing, but the film is filled with ludicrous inconsistencies, not the least of which is Kane posing a threat to Reed because he knows too much, even though he remembers very little.
Uneven production elements, including cheap special effects and poor sound quality, are a distraction.