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  'Tonya and Nancy: The Inside Story'

By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 30, 1994; Page G1




At one point in "Tonya and Nancy: The Inside Story," Nancy Kerrigan wonders aloud what life would be like if she didn't have any talent. Not to worry. She could always get a job writing lousy TV movies like this one.

NBC's film, at 8 tonight on Channel 4, is a pitiful and monumentally tedious account of that big news story all America is sick to death of: how the chubby-cheeked tramp allegedly tried to hobble the whining little ninny as both skaters scrounged for an Olympic gold medal and all the big advertising moolah that goes with it.

The movie is in part a tribute to HBO, for it baldly if feebly imitates "The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom," a big (and overpraised) HBO award-winner last year. Writer Philip Penningroth apparently imagined he had devised some clever fandango about celebrity, notoriety and media madness that would put the whole stupid mess in a witty new perspective.

Thus he opens the movie with an actor playing a scriptwriter talking about doing a Tonya-Nancy movie and even includes a scene in which it is pitched to NBC executives — and for the May sweeps, yet. "Let's try to find a way to elevate this, huh?" one network executive says. Obviously, they didn't. Alexandra Powers and Heather Langenkamp do look like Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan and do passable impressions.

Harding gets much more screen time, because her trashoid life has more grist for the mill: She is shown being screamed at by a Mommy Dearest, molested by a Neanderthal older brother and abused by her dimwit husband, Jeff Gillooly (James Wilder).

In one of their kitschier encounters, Jeff balks at being known around town as Mr. Tonya Harding. "Gillooly! Gillooly!" he screams. "Say it! Say it!" And even, "Spell it! Spell it!" What next — "Think of something that rhymes with it!"?

Nobody registers as a person, really, and the film, with its grotesque shifts of technique and tone, never amounts to more than a collection of scenes. Penningroth and grasping-at-straws director Larry Shaw fall back on the hoary cliche of interrupting the story with testimony to an unseen interviewer by actors posing as real-life witnesses.

Actors never seem phonier than when trying to be real-life witnesses giving interviews.

The clunking of Kerrigan's leg, a smack heard 'round the world, is re-created twice, both times more laughably than dramatically. The depiction of the conspirators as the gang that couldn't smack straight is kind of funny, but it's hard to tell how much of that is intentional.

"I wonder what Tolstoy would have thought of Tonya's life," the author muses pointlessly at one point. And what would Tolstoy have thought of this movie? He wouldn't have bothered to think of it. Nor should anybody else.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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