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Review: 'Prosecuting Casey Anthony' on Lifetime doesn't convict either

Rob Lowe stars as prosecutor Jeff Ashton in Lifetime's 'Prosecuting Casey Anthony,' which offers no compelling evidence of character study or story.

January 19, 2013|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Rob Lowe stars in "Prosecuting Casey Anthony."
Rob Lowe stars in "Prosecuting Casey Anthony." (Allen Fraser / Lifetime )

If you have been yearning to return to the days of the Caylee Anthony case and the waves of tabloid hoo-ha that erupted around it, or simply don't get enough of Rob Lowe on "Parks & Recreation," Elizabeth Mitchell on "Revolution" or Oscar Nuñez on "The Office" — it's like a delegation from NBC — Lifetime has a TV movie for you.

"Prosecuting Casey Anthony," which premieres Saturday, is based on a book called "Imperfect Justice: Prosecuting Casey Anthony," by Jeff Ashton (played by Lowe), who prosecuted Casey Anthony, imperfectly, on a murder charge in the death of her 2-year-old daughter. Ashton is therefore the person we care about and the only one we follow home, not that we learn much about him there, or anywhere.

It's no spoiler to point out, as history has recorded and the film points out right off the bat, that Anthony was found not guilty. The defendant, who didn't report her daughter missing for 31 days and was seen during that time and after partying around town, was clearly peculiar/damaged/a piece of work; but all the evidence against her was circumstantial and the police and prosecution blundered. Nevertheless, the team — Mitchell and David Richmond-Peck play Ashton's co-counsels — stayed sanguine about a victory right up until the moment it proved to be defeat.

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The movie tacks all the big facts into place, and if you knew nothing about the case beforehand you would know enough afterward. But it's curiously undramatic, even with frequent lashings of the professionally over-dramatic HLN hosts Nancy Grace, who dubbed Anthony "Tot Mom," a moniker the prosecution privately adopts, and Jane Velez-Mitchell, flown in via contemporary clips as a kind of Greek chorus.

The tale unrolls in office scenes, press conferences, courtroom scenes, Ashton's house and a variety of places where food is eaten (which includes the office and Ashton's house). The number of scenes staged in coffee shops and diners may have been to achieve visual variety on a low budget — the stars are the big expense in films like this — but having the characters eat is also a cheap way to make them look human as they reel off reams of expository dialogue, breaking every so often to say, "Could I get a coffee please" or "Jeff, you're such a slob."

We learn that this is a big last case for Ashton, who "got the first conviction in the entire world based on DNA evidence," whose boss "doesn't think I'm a team player" and who is "tired of not being able to throw my fast ball," and that he regards defense counsel Jose Baez (Nuñez) as "smarmy." Lowe signals Ashton's shifting mental states by varying the tension in his jaw and brow; clicking his ballpoint pen denotes anxiousness.

Only Kevin Dunn as Casey's father, George Anthony, who may have sexually abused Casey as a child — the defense claimed he did, and that it explained everything — gets much emotional material to play, and he is good. Casey (Virginia Welch) herself remains mostly offstage; there are no dramatic re-enactments of either side's version of events.

None of this ever threatens to break into an interesting character study or story or examination of ideas. Still, given that Anthony was acquitted — rightly or wrongly, but not arbitrarily and certainly legally — the fact the film does no better a job of convicting her than did the state of Florida speaks to its integrity, in a way.

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'Prosecuting Casey Anthony'

Where: Lifetime

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories for coarse language)

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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