'Fatal Exposure' is fatally flawed


Mare Winningham is an interesting actress who conveys a believable sense of ordinariness about her characters (such as in "St. Elmo's Fire"). They seem like someone you really might know and like.

But that is the best that can be said about "Fatal Exposure," this week's original movie from the USA basic cable network (at 9 tonight, with repeats Feb. 10 and 16).

In the early going, Winningham's workup of Jamie Hurd, a youndivorced mother of two boys, is pretty nice. She's spending the summer with them in a family home on Spruce Island, a Pacific Northwest resort area, and the on-location photography is very scenic.

Her former husband is about to remarry, she fears her sons will be spending more time with their father and, as a consequence, she may tend to exercise her imagination excessively. At least that's what the police think.

In a photo store mix-up, she gets a package of snapshots meant for someone else, pictures of a strange man. When someone apparently switches the photos in a late-night burglary, she alerts the police that something shady is going on. And when the guy in the photos turns up in the newspapers as an assassination victim, she's suddenly mixed up in dangerous doings.

Unfortunately, "Fatal Exposure" begins to get pretty mixed up at this point. Jamie suspects a recluse neighbor (Nick Mancuso) is the killer and, with the help of a young photo store clerk (Geoffrey Blake), sets out to unravel things.

Regular viewers of thriller fare, of course, know that not everyone is what they seem (both the mob and crooked cops are involved), and that a family-in-jeopardy climax is inevitable. But the twisted details of this film are unusually hard to follow.

First, the paid assassin has the odd habit of using wild west weaponry, a Colt .45 pistol and a Sharps buffalo rifle. He dresses like Butch Cassidy and even uses the real Cassidy's real name -- Robert Parker -- as an alias. Would any paid gun really behave so flamboyantly? Hardly.

In a particularly annoying lapse, one likable character (it wouldn't be right to reveal who) falls victim to the killer, but then is promptly forgotten. We see no evidence anybody even knows about the murder, let alone Winningham's character, whose nosiness is responsible for the poor person's doom.

Thus a relatively upbeat ending, in which another character turns out to have escaped apparent death a second time, seems more than a little inappropriate.

RADIO NOTE -- Media coverage of the Persian Gulf war is the topic of a phone-in talk show scheduled at 4 p.m. Friday on WJHU-FM 88.1. Station commentator and Johns Hopkins University professor Marc Crispin-Miller is the host.

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