Child molestation is the unsettling topic of "Just Ask My Children," an earnest yet heavy-handed Lifetime movie based on the true story of Bakersfield parents who were wrongly accused in 1982 of mistreating their sons.
The broadly played villain here is overzealous, one-dimensional Dist. Atty. Sam Bennis (Robert Joy), who coordinates the arrest of Brenda (Virginia Madsen) and her husband, Scott (Jeffrey Nordling), after false accusations are made by a woman related to two of the couple's friends.
To gather evidence, Bennis separates the confused, frightened boys--one is 6, the other is 9--and prods them into telling him what he wants to hear after extensive interrogation. The boys then are handed over to foster care and prevented from seeing their parents. Their ensuing testimony results in the conviction and 12-year incarceration of Brenda and Scott.
The story also covers efforts by the boys' grandparents to overturn the conviction. Along the way, there are references to the infamous 1983 McMartin Pre-School trial plus molestation cases that emerged in other parts of the country during the 1980s.
Though it's easy to sympathize with the plight of Brenda and Scott, the manipulative script by Deborah Serra never grips our emotions. Stronger performances would have helped, but Madsen and her colleagues cannot rise to the occasion under the perfunctory direction of Arvin Brown.
"Just Ask My Children" can be seen tonight at 9 on Lifetime. The network has rated the movie TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14), with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language.