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Columbo picks up the trail again

TUNED IN

January 30, 2003|Scott Sandell | Times Staff Writer

Thirty-five years after audiences got their first glimpse of Columbo, the rumpled LAPD lieutenant has just one more thing to prove: Can he compete on a TV schedule seemingly bound together by crime-scene tape?

ABC is hoping so, as it airs a new installment of the mystery tonight at 8: "Columbo Likes the Nightlife." (No, Peter Falk doesn't got to boogie on the disco 'round.)

Compared with series such as CBS' "CSI" duo and NBC's "Crossing Jordan" and ubiquitous "Law & Order" permutations, the Columbo franchise seems downright quaint. Yet it still entertains.

Tonight's two-hour movie, though set amid the L.A. rave scene, isn't much different from its predecessors: We see the crime occur and therefore know who's guilty. We see Lt. Columbo arrive on the case, flummoxing the uniformed police with his eccentric powers of observation. And we know that, in the end, he will collar the killer in an Agatha Christie-like moment of deduction.

As in days of old, no pools of blood sully the crime scenes, nor do the characters utter salty language. There's a bit more violence than you might expect, but it's fairly brief.

Falk leads a talented cast, including Matthew Rhys and Jennifer Sky as a rave promoter and up-and-coming actress caught in a web of cash, celebrity and deceit, and Steven Schirripa of HBO's "The Sopranos" in a cameo as an emissary from a mob family back East.

Director Jeffrey Reiner and writer Michael Alaimo deftly weave together the show's traditional elements with a contemporary setting that points up how un-hip Columbo is.

Indeed, the good lieutenant may not be mixing the ones and the twos, but he can still put two and two together in a fascinating way.

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