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'Price of Passion,' doesn't have any zest to lose


Los Angeles -- There just aren't enough courtroom dramas playing out on television these days, are there?

The latest to be thrown into the mix is NBC's two-part movie "Trial: The Price of Passion," scheduled for 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday, and it's not all that interesting -- even for fiction.

It's on a par with Danielle Steel for realism, but not quite as romantic -- a hokey, sex-filled soap opera based on improbable coincidences and cookie-cutter characters that's lifted only by a cast that includes Peter Strauss, Beverly D'Angelo, Jill Clayburgh and Ned Beatty.

The only real surprise the film offers in four hours of deliberate twists and turns comes when Mr. Beatty's character, a corrupt good ol' boy lawyer, drops abruptly out of the story in Part 1. This doesn't bode well for the final 2 1/2 hours or so since he's one of the best things about the movie.

Based on the 1990 novel "Trial" by Clifford Irving, the guy who tried to con the world with his fraudulent "Autobiography of Howard Hughes" in the early '70s, "Passion" gives us a Texas lawyer played by Mr. Strauss whose good intentions are fouled by a bad judgment that costs him a two-year suspension.

Ms. Clayburgh, milking an unlikely Texas accent, is the witchy judge who hands down the ruling because the bar association apparently couldn't be bothered. The loss of his livelihood leads to problems with his marriage to a cold newscaster named Charm (Laila Robins).

Yes, Charm. She lacks it completely.

"You're losing your zest," Charm nags.

But he somehow gets not one, but two capital cases handed to him, and darned if he can't find that zest again. It isn't enough to necessarily save the marriage, but it does provoke some steamy scenes for Mr. Strauss.

It turns out the Clayburgh character has moved to help him by getting him assigned to a murder case involving a poor immigrant (Marco Rodriguez) who claims he's innocent. Don't ask why Ms. Clayburgh has done this.

Mr. Beatty then seeks him out to assist on another murder case. This one involves a wealthy strip-joint owner (Ms. D'Angelo) who is definitely not innocent but claims she's not guilty. For all her money and the pending murder charge, her biggest problem seems to be finding clothing

that fits.

Mr. Strauss naturally wants to save his clients and launches an investigation into each case. This leads to his discovering the kind of amazing coincidence that happens only in mediocre fiction, which this probably qualifies as.

It does, however, afford him the opportunity to project a great deal ofanguish and frustration, which he seems to enjoy, just as Ms. D'Angelo has a ball spouting lines like, "Been 'round that block so many times I could write a guidebook."

It's undoubtedly more fun to shovel that sort of stuff than to be buried in it, though, and "Trial: The Price of Passion" shovels stuff without restraint.

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