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Showtime Puts On a Happy Face

The story of a murder-mystery-loving grandmother who frames
herself in order to get an abusive boyfriend out of her life, The Happy Face Murders --
Showtime's latest original movie -- is a confusing execution of an interesting
premise.

The film -- which boasts a cast of veteran actors such as
Ann-Margret, Marg Helgenberger and Henry Thomas -- does a poor job of tying together the
various elements in the plot.

The film centers on the investigation into the murder of
Tracy Billings (Emily Hampshire), a young, mildly retarded woman who is found dead along a
remote stretch of highway.

The detective called upon to investigate, Jen Powell
(Helgenberger), and Dylan McCarthy (Thomas), a college intern also assigned to the case,
receive a phone call from Lorraine Petrovich (Ann-Margret). Petrovich fingers her abusive
live-in boyfriend, Rusty Zuvic (Nicholas Campbell), as the killer.

Petrovich is a mystery buff, and many of the interrogation
scenes in her home show her watching Perry Mason, Matlock or similar shows
as the police arrive.

She uses the knowledge gleaned from years of TV watching to
get enough information from the police to make her story seem credible, inferring facts
from the cops' questions that lead her to the crime scene, for example.

But how likely is it that someone could pull the wool over
the eyes of an experienced detective based on information obtained from Matlock?

Ann-Margret gives a strong performance as Petrovich,
straddling the fine line between kindly grandmother and desperate, slightly unstable woman
looking to protect herself and her family.

But Helgenberger is unremarkable as Powell, and Thomas --
best remembered as young dreamer Elliott in Steven Spielberg blockbuster E.T. The
Extra-Terrestrial
-- offers a downright wooden performance.

Much of the script is often trite and clichéd -- the
relationship between Powell and McCarthy is just another wrinkle in the tired old cliché
of the hard-edged veteran cop and the wet-behind-the-ears rookie (or, in this case,
criminology student).

And Ann-Margret's performance can't overcome the
stilted dialogue provided by writer John Pielmeier.

After Petrovich confesses that her story was a lie, the
movie then abruptly switches gears, focusing on Powell's pursuit of trucker Billy Lee
Peterson (Rick Peters).

But except for a very brief cameo at the beginning, the
character who provides the film with its name does not become crucial to the story line
until more than one hour into the film. Weaving the story lines together more closely
could have heightened the suspense.

The Happy Face Murders premieres on Showtime Sept. 5 at
8 p.m.

Mike Demenchuk has served as content manager of Broadcasting+Cable and Multichannel News since 2016. After stints as reporter and editor at Adweek, The Bond Buyer and local papers in New Jersey, he joined the staff of Multichannel News in 1999 as assistant managing editor and has served as the cable trade publication's managing editor since 2005. He edits copy and writes headlines for both the print magazine and website, wrangles the occasional e-newsletter and reviews TV shows from time to time. He's also the guy to bother with your guest blog, Fates & Fortunes and Freeze Frame submissions.