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TV REVIEW : 'Precious Victims' Goes by the Numbers

September 28, 1993|CHRIS WILLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lock up your cribs: The tide of true-life TV movies seems to have turned away from women in distress toward endangered babies.

The latest, "Precious Victims" (at 9 tonight on CBS, Channels 2 and 8), deals with actual infanticide out in the heartland, leaving the viewer to ponder which is more unsavory and inexplicable: the kid-killing, or the raison d'etre behind making a pointless drama out of it.

Robby Benson and Park Overall star as a rural couple who report their infant daughter kidnaped, despite a complete lack of any corroborating evidence. Investigators Frederic Forrest and Brion James immediately begin to suspect the parents themselves, borne out by the weird couple's failed lie-detector tests, and especially by creepo Benson speaking slowly and smirking in a manner that flashes Na na na na na, I'm a world-class psycho in neon letters.

Unfortunately, there's not enough evidence to prosecute. Then, a few years later in a different locale, the same parents report the unlikely kidnaping of yet another baby daughter. This time it goes to trial, with Richard Thomas and Cliff DeYoung as opposing legal eagles.

Forrest and James are both appealingly crusty character actors, which helps gloss over the fact that their investigators don't really do much stunning sleuth work. But turning in an over-the-top performance as the apparent sociopath, soft-spoken Benson--cast against type--makes a strong case that sometimes it's better to stick with type after all.

Mystery buffs shouldn't expect any twists, and abnormal-psych aficionados won't get any illumination into evil. The usual preface explaining that this narrative is based on real events is almost superfluous; viewers would never believe a story so free of surprises as this one to be made-up. If truth is indeed stranger than fiction, it also often is more predictable.

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