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Suspense Tale of Two Evils in 'Bump in the Night'

January 05, 1991|RAY LOYND

Two addictions, pedophilia and alcoholism, are dramatized with force and credibility in the propulsive suspense movie, "Bump in the Night" (Sunday, 9 p.m., on CBS).

A drunk of a divorced mother, a once-famous newspaper columnist, awakes from a stupor to discover that her 8-year-old son never made it to school. The boy is lured to an apartment by a pedophile, a former English professor, who tells the lonely boy he's taking him to see his father. Instead he takes him to an apartment outfitted with video cameras on the Upper West Side of New York.

If all this sounds lurid, a first-rate cast, Christopher Lofton's taut teleplay (based on a novel by Isabelle Holland) and director Karen Arthur's crisp pace create a crackling movie that deals with two social diseases at once and does it with care as opposed to exploitation.

The surprise casting element is Christopher Reeve as the pedophile. This is certainly Reeve's most challenging role to date, and his character's gracious demeanor, intense surface and sick obsession are totally convincing. As the frazzled mom who fights off booze to look for her son in Gotham's kiddie porn world, Meredith Baxter-Birney delivers a portrait of alcohol burnout that, if not original, is a distinguished and modulated performance.

The level of the secondary casting is uniformly strong. Corey Carrier's young boy is endearing but not saccharine, Wings Hauser's angry father turns a sow's ear of a role into a pearl of a performance, and Shirley Knight as another boozer and Geraldine Fitzgerald as a neighborhood cat lady etch flavorful characterizations.

The production (in which Pittsburgh doubled as New York) was reviewed without music or special effects, and still packed a wallop. That says a lot for the show, which JoBeth Williams and Barry Krost co-executive produced.

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