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TV REVIEW : Best Is Only in the Title of CBS' 'To Be the Best'

August 01, 1992|RAY LOYND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"To Be the Best," based on romance novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford's tale of lust, greed and family betrayal, is an empty, cynical, stilted story of international chicanery that plunges the TV movie genre to its nadir.

The four-hour miniseries, which should send viewers scurrying to catch the kayak prelims or whatever else is opposite on the Olympics, airs on CBS Sunday and Tuesday at 9 p.m. (Channels 2 and 8).

You've heard of bad movies that are fun to watch. "To Be the Best" (one of the more laughable titles of the year) is a bad movie that's hard to watch. Its very lavishness makes it irritating.

The hackneyed, ponderous plot is centered on the travails and triumph of an impossibly rich department store heiress (Lindsay Wagner) who inherited her spunk from her dynamic grandmother, Emma Harte, whom Bradford devotees will remember as the towering heroine of her first megaseller, "A Woman of Substance."

To be fair, there are redeeming elements: Foremost are the 18 different hairstyles, in shimmering red-gold, that coif the glamorous Wagner, followed by the designer imagery encasing the world of the rich and the corrupt, from the fields of England to the boardrooms of Manhattan to the yachts and casinos of Hong Kong.

In short, the movie is a fold-out postcard and fashion-plate fantasy.

Yet the production, directed by Tony Wharmby and written by Elliott Baker, is a case study of mind-numbing movie making rooted in cynicism. Examples are a standard wheeler-dealer cad (Christopher Cazenove), a smirking Asian (James Saito) who suggests a villain out of an old Charlie Chan movie and characters who are forever drinking, dining and being chauffeured over glittering boulevards.

Saving the most mystifying for last, the male star is, of all actors, Anthony Hopkins, which is truly casting pearls on swine. Not that Hopkins, playing a security chief, lights this movie up; actually, he sleepwalks through it.

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