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Wilder Is Milder in A&E Mystery

The main problem with A&E Network's The Lady inQuestion, starring Gene Wilder, is that we never really forget we're watchingcharacters in a play, so the murder mystery never truly grips the viewer.

Moreover, even though the movie is subtitled A CashCarter Mystery, Wilder's Carter character contributes surprisingly little to thesleuthing until the last half-hour.

Instead, it's Mike Starr (The Bodyguard), asblustery police detective Tony Rossini, whose questioning narrows the suspect list, whileCash observes.

Carter is an ex-Broadway director who, after his wife isslain, flees to the more peaceful surroundings of Connecticut (actually Toronto). Now acommunity-theater director, he relies on gut instinct in helping Rossini to"read" suspects. The trouble is that Carter comes across as too detached.

Not only is this movie (one of a series) set in an earliertime (1938), but it also resembles old-fashioned films and TV shows in which suspects aregathered in a sitting room as the detectives use a process of elimination to nail theculprit. It's such a throwback that it should be shot in black-and-white.

While this variation on that theme is pleasant enough, it'shardly riveting television.

As in the first movie, Murder in a Small Town,Carter is drawn into a murder case. This time, his fiancée, Mimi (Cherry Jones), gets himinvolved. As a stewardess aboard a plane, she meets the woman of the title, Emma Sachs(Claire Bloom), who's using her fortune to help Jews escape Hitler's Germany.

The movie, co-written by Wilder and directed by JoyceChopra, devotes too much time to smarmy business traveler John Wheeler (Michael Cumpsty),who strikes up a conversation with Emma and Mimi -- and who the viewer already knows is aNazi.

After Emma and her companion, Rachel (Barbara Sukowa),arrive at her mansion for dinner, we meet her dysfunctional relatives and staff -- allsuspects once she's poisoned to death.

Prime suspect Wheeler, a.k.a. Klaus Gruber, eventuallyturns out to be a red herring. That leaves Rachel, the German maid; Emma's niece, Dorie;her nephew, Rudy; and her secretary, Paul -- who's Dorie's current lover and Rachel'sex-lover. Once Rossini narrows that field, Carter probes for the motive.

The movie's final, superfluous scene would be more suitablefor one of Wilder's comedy films.

A&E's The Lady in Question is due Dec. 12 at 8p.m.