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'Child' Is Not All the Rage

Lifetime Television takes on the issue of teen violence in Dangerous Child,
but the telepic is long on melodrama and short on resolution. Evidently, in Hollywood's perfect world, a problem 16 years in the making can be remedied in a single peer-group confrontation.

The surprise in the film is the mature performance by Delta Burke as confused mom Sally Cambridge. There's nary a hint of her hammy Suzanne Sugarbaker from Designing Women
in this dramatic foray. Although the script doesn't give her much to work with, she makes the most of it.

Cambridge is a divorced woman trying to raise two sons in an unidentified Midwestern town. She thinks she's escaped a marriage filled with verbal abuse, but violence still resides under her roof.

Her son Jack (Ryan Merriman) has a bad case of teen angst. Viewers get handed clues about the cause of his anger: Jack snaps anytime someone mentions the state of his skin; Jack barks when peers comment about his basketball prowess; Jack jumps anytime his stereotypical, backward-hat wearing, babe-ogling pal tells him to jump.

The only trauma that rings true is his torment by a teen queen, who alternately kisses him and then tells him he's "such a good friend."

The result of his confusion is rage — internalized, for the most part, but ultimately vented at his mother. The scenes, though, have a boring sameness: Mom approaches Jack in his room and says, "What is wrong with you?" and he explodes. Shoving, throwing and eventually punching ensues.

Little is done with father Brad (Vyto Ruginis), who dashes in to misjudge the situation or upbraid Sally for failing to administer discipline. Little brother Leo (Marc Donato) is saddled with looking sheepish or frightened in the background, until his character is needed for the tragic climax.

In this dysfunctional world, no one else seems to notice Jack's problem, including teachers or other social contacts. Sally doesn't reveal the problem at home, for fear of losing custody. She only acts when Jack mangles the family cat, but by then it's too late to avert police involvement.

The script makes the point that there are few resources for teen-on-parent violence, but then depicts Jack's entry into a six-month residential treatment program that has him home, playing piano duets with Mom as her loving little boy. If only it were that simple in the real world.

Dangerous Child
debuts July 16 at 9 p.m. on Lifetime.