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TV REVIEW : Fox '12:01' an Upbeat, Comic Variation on a Familiar Theme

July 05, 1993|CHRIS WILLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

All right, we'll have no cracks about " deja vu all over again" here . . . even though the perpetually-repeating-day concept behind tonight's TV movie "12:01" is redolent of last spring's "Groundhog Day," which in turn bore canny similarity to the Oscar-nominated short film "12:01" of a few years back that tonight's feature is very loosely based upon.

Anyone who already saw the earlier two variations on this theme, then, might not find the prospect of a third trip through the "time bounce" appealing. Surprise: This goofily fun, cleverly replotted "12:01" (at 8 tonight on Fox, Channels 11 and 6) is different enough from its predecessors to be worth setting your clock for.

Jonathan Silverman stars as a low-level personnel worker for a mysterious scientific corporation who suffers through a particularly bad day at the office, capped by the murder of the comely co-worker he's been trying to woo, Helen Slater. Come the next day, though, he gradually figures out that it isn't the same day at all, thanks to a glitch caused by a nefarious scientist or two at his workplace. And somehow it's only our young hero, naturally, who realizes that the same day is repeating itself from scratch come every midnight.

Silverman's indomitable daily attempts to re-enlist Slater's aid and find out who the saboteur is are what drives the fast-paced "12:01."

By contrast, the original "12:01" short subject was a relatively plotless existential nightmare about a schmuck who relives the same lunch hour in perpetuity--the ultimate depressing "Twilight Zone" fate. "Groundhog Day" played a similar concept for gently philosophic laughs and sweet sentiment. This version, though, is an upbeat comic thriller that leaves out the nihilist dread of the former and the sweetness of the latter, instead just pouring on the plot mechanics and cute quips in Philip Morton's witty lark of a teleplay.

Director Jack Sholder (known for two memorably funny horror movies, "The Hidden" and "Elm Street III," the best of that series) wisely keeps the proceedings moving almost as briskly as an old screwball comedy. Silverman and Slater don't invest any more than necessary in taking their roles seriously, and bounce attractively enough off characteristically grave baddie Martin Landau.

There's probably never been a better blueprint for a comedy of frustration than one where the lead seduces the hard-to-get girl, then has to start all over again the next morning. So if it's true that Hollywood is averse to new ideas, it may at least be slightly encouraging that the recurring ones can be rethought this entertainingly.

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