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TELEVISION & RADIO | TUNED IN

Few insights in JFK Jr. biopic

January 11, 2003|Scott Sandell | Times Staff Writer

"America's Prince: The John F. Kennedy Jr. Story" is a title that will doubtless provoke one of two reactions: Your eyes are going to either mist or roll. So it's at least comforting to know that the two-hour film, premiering Sunday at 5, 7 and 9 p.m. on TBS, lives up -- or down -- to its title.

The movie centers on the last years of a man who was famous before he was even born, and who continued to be fodder for respectable and sensational media outlets alike until well past his death in 1999. It's based on Christopher Andersen's book "The Day John Died," which was a bestseller in 2000 -- yet another testament to the seemingly insatiable fascination with the Kennedy clan.

Yet even for the most casual follower of these American "royals," the film contains relatively little insight, although it purports to recount the intimate details of JFK Jr.'s close-yet-conflicted relationship with his mother, his romance with actress Daryl Hannah, his founding of George magazine, his marriage to Carolyn Bessette, and his fascination with flying that ended in tragedy for him, his wife and her sister Lauren.

Kristoffer Polaha as JFK Jr., Portia de Rossi as Carolyn Bessette and Jacqueline Bisset as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis all do credible jobs with their characters, despite the relative thinness of Jon Maas' screenplay. Tara Chocol portrays Hannah, who comes off here as hopelessly needy. The film's musical score is laden with mournful violin and piano.

Of greater concern is director Eric Laneuville's approach, which mixes actual news footage, filmed drama told in flashbacks, and videotaped interviews with a George editor, a Kennedy biographer and others. The problem is that the interviews often look as if they are with real people, when in fact they are with actors.

For all of the film's sympathy for JFK Jr., it can't escape a somewhat exploitative undertone -- though perhaps no film about him can.

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