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TV Reviews : A Leisurely Tale of 'Love, Lies, Murder'

February 16, 1991|CHRIS WILLMAN

Nobody doesn't like Sheryl Lee. Which is unfortunate for her Victim-with-a-capital-V television characters, who tend to be especially well-liked by domineering, sexually abusive, homicidally inclined men. Having been killed no less than twice already as Laura and Maddy on "Twin Peaks," Lee meets another master manipulator and nearly the same fate in the four-hour miniseries "Love, Lies and Murder" (airing at 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday on Channels 4, 36 and 39).

This time, it's for real: The film dramatizes a well-publicized Orange County case in which 14-year-old Cinnamon Brown carried out father David Brown's orders to shoot to death her stepmother, taking the sole rap while her father secretly married the victim's sister, Patti Bailey. It took 3 1/2 years of juvenile hall after the 1985 homicide for Cinnamon to realize that her father did not have the family's best interests at heart and to finally implicate him and his bride.

Anyone else's dysfunctional family pales beside this one, to say the least. In flashbacks during the later trial sequences, David Brown is seen persuading daughter Cinnamon and teen-age mistress Patti that his wife is plotting to kill him, and that he'll have to flee for his life--"unless we kill her first. That's the only way I know to keep this family together!" The women Brown had under his thumb would seemingly number enough to form their own charter chapter of Adult Children of Sociopaths.

"Love, Lies and Murder" is a well-made--if, at four hours, more than leisurely paced--potboiler, benefiting from a strong casting triumvirate at its center. As David Brown, Clancy Brown (who usually plays psychos in the movies) makes a convincing father figure to the easily deceived, and as Cinnamon, young Moira Kelly is frighteningly trusting. As equally victimized but more knowing Patti Bailey, an emotive Sheryl Lee finally gets to prove she's more than just another pretty corpse.

Victims of far less extreme forms of familial abuse may relate to certain scenes here, which is the movie's virtue, in addition to its storytelling; its real failing is in not making Brown anything much more difficult to digest than just another embodiment of pure evil with a kindly, joking, smooching exterior--he might as well be "Twin Peaks' " Bob redux.

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