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'Date' effectively follows Luster case

Lifetime's movie, starring Jason Gedrick, chronicles the facts and protects the victims of the rapist who was heir to Max Factor fortune.

August 11, 2003|Samantha Bonar | Times Staff Writer

The story of Max Factor heir and convicted serial rapist Andrew Luster proves not only the truth of the maxim that money can't buy taste but also that it can't buy class, brains or a conscience.

Lifetime's TV movie "A Date With Darkness: The Trial and Capture of Andrew Luster" tells with accuracy and sensitivity the tale of a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth and not a scruple in his head.

Luster, the thirtysomething great-grandson of cosmetics tycoon Max Factor, had a dream lifestyle: an incredible home on the beach near Santa Barbara, a trust fund and the freedom to spend his days surfing. But he also had a lust for beautiful young women that he could not assuage using ordinary means. Instead, he drugged them with the powerful date-rape drug GHB and raped them while they were unconscious.

The move that gets Luster into the Idiot Criminals Hall of Fame is that he videotaped his rapes, then neatly labeled the tapes with his victims' names and the drug he used to render them comatose, as in "Shawna GHBing."

Luster's sordid proclivities were exposed when one of his victims, 23-year-old college student "Carey Doe" ("Connie Doe" in the movie), recalled enough of her assault to go to the police. Two more victims, one of whom was a 17-year-old high school student at the time of her rape, subsequently came forward.

"A Date With Darkness," written by Christopher Canaan and based largely on court testimony, follows the facts of the case closely while making efforts to both protect and humanize Luster's victims. For example, it changes the real first names of the victims, which were used in the court case, so "Shawna Doe" becomes "Sarah Doe." And, under the direction of Bobby Roth, it shows them relating to their parents, their husbands and their friends. This portrays the human beings behind Luster's defense that his victims were drug-addicted, alcoholic sluts and is a way of countering that most depersonalizing of acts, rape.

Luster had the best lawyer money could buy in Roger Diamond (played by Tom Butler), and "A Date With Darkness" portrays Luster's side of the story fairly enough to raise some doubts in viewers' minds about his victims' culpability. For example, some of the women had been drinking heavily before going home with Luster. But nothing speaks louder in their defense than the shots of their mute, unconscious bodies on Luster's videotapes, reenacted briefly for the film.

Jason Gedrick ("Boomtown," "Murder One") does an excellent job capturing Luster's smarmy confidence, while Marla Sokoloff ("The Practice," "Party of Five") aptly portrays college student "Connie's" disgust and shame at having been duped, drugged and raped.

Toward the end of his trial in January, Luster, free on $1-million bail, bolted. The trial went on with the defendant a fugitive. Charged with 87 counts, he was convicted in absentia of 86, including rape, sodomy and poisoning, and sentenced to 124 years in prison.

If the ending of "A Date With Darkness" seems tacked on, it's because it was; filming had nearly wrapped when Luster was caught in Mexico in June and a new scene had to be shot quickly. The movie ends abruptly with Luster's capture. It would have been more satisfying to be left with an image of him ensconced in Wasco State Prison in Kern County, where now his outer environment finally matches his inner world: bleak, merciless and ugly.


'A Date With Darkness'

What: "A Date With Darkness: The Trial and Capture of Andrew Luster"

Where: Lifetime

When: Today at 9 p.m., repeats at 11 p.m.

Rating: Lifetime has rated the movie TV-14 (may be inappropriate for children under 14)

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