Ken Olin, call your agent. Agreeing to play spouse-killer Charles Stuart in the CBS docudrama "Good Night, Sweet Wife: A Murder in Boston" was a bad career move.
It's certainly a bad movie.
Olin, seen weekly as the prince of sensitivity on ABC's "thirtysomething," doesn't exactly get a handle on the Stuart character in the film, at 9 tonight on Channel 9, but then the whole movie is essentially handle-less. It's told from nobody's point of view.
Surely the most socially valid reason for recounting the story of the Boston man who murdered his pregnant wife, Carol, and then blamed the killing on "a black guy" who got away would be to examine the racism and prejudice that surfaced in the aftermath of the shooting and the hysterical media coverage of it.
Cops are indeed shown recklessly rounding up suspects on the basis of their skin color and pursuing the case with politically motivated zeal, but the script by Dan Freudenberger makes no real attempt to penetrate surfaces or examine root causes. The film's cavalier treatment of big-city racial tensions is really a kind of narrative tokenism.
What obviously interested CBS, which produced the film, is the sensational nature of the crime and the marital melodrama leading up to it.
Olin stalks through the film looking moodily confused, but then it can't be easy playing a part that frequently requires one to freeze in one's tracks while the filmmakers go off to flashback land. During a scene in which Stuart wanders around his empty home, and another in which he inspects a police lineup, he in fact suffers multiple flashbacks, which always end with a shot of him looking blank and dazed, as though he'd just had some sort of fit.
The first half-hour of the film is devoted to an arduously detailed reenactment of scenes already seen for real on the CBS series "Rescue: 911" -- camera crews from that "reality" show happened to be taping in Boston the night of the murder and got plenty of footage of Stuart being loaded into an ambulance and rushed to the hospital.
"Okay, Charles, you're going to feel some pain in your penis now," says a nurse in tonight's reenactment as she is about to insert a catheter. This TV realism may be getting out of hand.
Arnold Shapiro, who produces "Rescue: 911" for CBS, also produced this movie, so he has the case covered coming and going. He beat all the other Hollywood grave robbers bidding for rights to the story. Oh good for him.
You have to hope that none of the relatives or friends of Carol Stuart are going to be watching, especially in the final moments when the killing itself is reenacted, Stuart having pulled onto a back road of an inner-city neighborhood so he can pump a bullet into his wife's head and then, to make himself look like a victim also, fire one into his own side.
Boston police had only begun to investigate Stuart for the crime -- having apparently questioned every black male in the city by that time -- when he saved the state the trouble of trying and sentencing him by jumping off a bridge to his death.
While Olin's yuppie-zombie turn sheds no particular light on Stuart's twisted mind, there are good acting jobs in the film, especially Annabella Price as Carol, a truly heartbreaking performance.
As two reporters who are skeptical of Stuart's tale almost from the beginning, plucky Margaret Colin (of the short-lived CBS series "Foley Square") and ultra-magnetic B.D. Wong (of Broadway's "M. Butterfly") elevate and energize all their scenes.
To say "Good Night, Sweet Wife" is depressing is of course stating the obvious. But it's depressing not only because of the subject matter, but because of the pointlessness of the approach. You don't know why you're watching, and you don't know why they made the film.
There is some good news on a related front. Asked yesterday about CBS plans to make a movie or miniseries based on the case of Joel Steinberg, the New York man convicted of manslaughter in the beating death of his 6-year-old daughter, Lisa, a network spokesman did some checking and found out that the project has been scrapped.
At last, something to be grateful for!
In tonight's film, an actor playing Boston's mayor refers to the incident as "this cowardly, senseless tragedy." It almost sounds like a review.