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'Deadly Medicine' is a weak murder film made for women


Last night it was a mother poisoning her husband and daughter on ABC ("Wife, Mother, Murderer") and a brother shooting his brother on CBS ("My Son Johnny"). Tonight, NBC makes up for lost time by having a nurse kill a baby.

"Deadly Medicine," which will be on Channel 2 (WMAR) at 9 o'clock, is another based-on-fact story starring recognizable female series stars. In this case, Veronica Hamel of "Hill Street Blues" is Dr. Kathleen Holland, the wrongly accused pediatrician, while Susan Ruttan of "L.A. Law" is the evil nurse Genene Jones.

Based on events that took place a decade ago, our story opens with Holland leaving a residency at a hospital in Austin, Texas, a New York native headed for the Texas hill country to open her own practice while her husband (Scott Paulin) builds their dream house in the country. She brings with her an apparently dedicated nurse, Jones.

Within weeks a baby suffers a strange seizure and is saved from death only by heavy-duty emergency room care. Tests up in Austin reveal nothing. Brought back in for a checkup, the baby has a relapse and this time she dies. Since you know that a murder is being committed on this helpless infant, these early scenes are excruciatingly painful to watch.

When foul play is suspected, suspicion falls immediately on the outsider Holland, who takes the Fifth before the grand jury on her lawyer's advice while Texas native Jones plays the sensitive stricken one in the media.

"Deadly Medicine" had been a straightforward accounting of the investigation and trial that pinned the blame where it is apparently due, then it might have been a compelling movie.

But, as with many of these films that seek out the female audience opposite Monday Night Football, it appears afraid of being too hard-hitting. It soft-pedals as it tries to be a touching relationships-and-personal-trauma movie that seems to be asking the question so often posed by TV reporters: "How do you feel?"

The investigation by local district attorney Ron Sutton -- nicely played by Stephen Tobolowsky -- is instead told in bits and pieces between reports on the state of Holland's marriage, her growing relationship with Sutton, her pain and suffering at the hands of the prejudiced local populace.

As a result, that investigation appears to be half-hearted and haphazard. Key questions go unasked, important witnesses seem to be not interviewed. And, when the matter gets to trial, what is supposed to be the blockbuster piece of evidence is instead just a confirmation of the method of murder that had been suspected from the outset.

Hamel and Ruttan both turn in excellent work, but aside from those performances, "Deadly Medicine" is a frightful mess that sails rudderless across its chosen demographic sea.

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