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'Suburban Madness' not so hot

High aspirations don't lead to high-quality movie

Sela Ward and Elizabeth Pena star in the CBS movie "Suburban Madness" on Sunday at 9 p.m. on Ch. 2.
Sela Ward and Elizabeth Pena star in the CBS movie "Suburban Madness" on Sunday at 9 p.m. on Ch. 2.
Steve Wilkie/CBS

The producers of "Suburban Madness" (Sunday, 8 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) insisted over and over again that they didn't set out to make a true-crime TV movie. That what they wanted with this retelling of the tale of Clara and David Harris was something more than that.

You remember them. Clara ran over David with her Mercedes (three times) when she caught him with his mistress.

These are not just any TV producers. Craig Zadan and Neil Meron have done some extraordinary TV work, including biographies of Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, as well as such musicals as "Gypsy," "Cinderella" and "Annie." Oh, and they won an Oscar for "Chicago."

And you've got Emmy-winner Sela Ward as a private investigator who gets mixed up in the case, and Elizabeth Pena as Clara, Emmy-winning director Robert Dornhelm — all of whom got together and made a TV movie that's . . . well, it's OK.

Maybe this tawdry real-life tale defied doing anything that rises above tawdry. Everybody involved certainly tried. Maybe they tried too hard.

Trying to make it into some sort of statement about the state of the American family stretches credulity past the breaking point. The premise here seems to be that every marriage and every family is rocked by infidelity.

And there are some odd choices here. Parallel storylines about Bobbi's history of suffering betrayal (a series of philandering husbands has made her more than cynical about marriage in general) and her daughter's forthcoming nuptials never mesh comfortably. And mixing murder with silly humor that sometimes borders on slapstick doesn't work at all.

The movie doesn't exactly take sides, although it does come across as sort of pro-family in the end. And it doesn't demonize either David or Clara Harris, although neither of them comes off looking real good.

Still, a voiceover by Bobbi that justifies Clara's actions as something she was doing to protect her family goes beyond ridiculous to insulting. She had her stepdaughter in the car when she ran over the teen's father — three times — and her actions left her own small sons both fatherless and motherless. (Although they can at least visit their mother in prison.)

Sometimes you can take some sensational, headline-grabbing crime and turn it into a really good TV movie that's about more than just the crime.

This isn't one of those times.


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com