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Television Review

There's Little Spark in HBO's 'Point of Origin'

June 22, 2002|JOSH FRIEDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Point of Origin" is an arson mystery laced with violence and eroticism, but the biggest surprise is how little heat it generates.

Ray Liotta stars as a Ray Liotta type, a firefighter on the edge, in this HBO movie inspired by a true story. He plays John Orr, a veteran investigator from the Glendale Fire Department who hunted a serial arsonist during a rampage that killed four and caused millions of dollars of damage across Southern California in the late 1980s.

Designed as a psychological thriller in the style of "Manhunter," "Tightrope" and other cop-on-the-edge films--to catch a psycho, you have to think like one--"Point of Origin" suffers from a predictable script by Matthew Tabak and excessive razzle-dazzle from director Newton Thomas Sigel.

Orr, known for his uncanny ability to pinpoint the causes and points of origin of suspicious fires, is nicknamed "The Professor" by his enthusiastic protege (John Leguizamo). After surveying the scene of a blaze, Orr can visualize what happened.

In the smoking rubble of a hardware store fire that police believe was caused by accident, he knows otherwise and starts assembling a profile of the sadistic firebug. For one thing, Orr figures, this torch targets crowded stores so he can watch the victims scurry in panic from his handiwork.

"This is about ego, not fire," Orr tells his colleagues. "Your strategy should be to get under this guy's skin."

Not surprisingly, this shrewd adversary gets under Orr's skin as well.

Orr's personal life unravels in the stress of the chase, and as he carries on an affair with a blase cop (Illeana Douglas) while neglecting his wife (Bai Ling) and kids, his grip on reality begins to slip. As his visions get weirder, the question becomes whether he will crack the case before his sanity cracks.

Liotta and Douglas, both dynamite pros, spark little chemistry in these roles.

Never mind the points of origin--by the time this film gets to the last twist you might just wonder: What's the point?

*

"Point of Origin" airs tonight at 8 on HBO. The network has rated it TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under age 17).

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