May 2, 1996 in Features

What’s Needed Here Is A Decent Bad Guy

John Martin New York Times Syndicate
 

The good news for “Wiseguy” fans is that Ken Wahl is back as federal undercover agent Vinnie Terranova. The bad news is that “Wiseguy,” the ABC movie at 9, is missing a decent villain.

What made Wahl’s old CBS series (it ran from 1987-90, although Wahl bowed out of the final year) were the bad guys this wiseguy collared.

First it was Ray Sharkey as mobster Sonny Steelgrave. Who can forget Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey and Joan Severance as smugglers Mel and Susan Profitt? Later, Terranova saved garment king Eli Sternberg (Jerry Lewis) from racketeer Rick Pinzolo (Stanley Tucci).

This time, Ted Levine is Paul Callendar, the ruthless head of a computer software company that is a front for the stealing and selling of top-secret information.

The trouble is that Callendar lacks the depth and the demented appeal of past “Wiseguy” bad guys. He could just as easily show up on “Diagnosis Murder.”

Terranova - the mobster who came in from the cold - has been wasting away, we learn, in the Organized Crime Bureau’s wiretap division. He’s finally given a chance to redeem himself by infiltrating the operation and getting the goods on Callendar.

He’s reunited with O.C.B compatriots Frank McPike and “Lifeguard” (Jonathan Banks and Jim Byrnes, both reprising their roles from the old CBS series).

Nonetheless, the movie has its moments. Terranova, hired as a family bodyguard, falls for Callendar’s wife (Debrah Farentino) who - it seems - is oblivious to her husband’s criminal deeds.

It’s great to see Wahl back, and fans will appreciate that. But the movie never gets to the gritty essence of the once-dynamic series.

Highlights

“Friends,” NBC at 8: The arrival of Rachel’s parents (Marlo Thomas, Ron Leibman) turns her birthday party into a very “unFriendly” affair - a rowdy celebration in Chandler and Joey’s apartment and a proper, but dull, gathering at Rachel and Monica’s.

“Martin,” FOX at 8: An hour-long season finale features a typical barrage of insults. Martin (Martin Lawrence) and Tommy (Tommy Ford) go head-to-head in a major blowout, but all changes when Tommy is in a serious car accident. Once again, it turns out that Martin has a heart after all.

“Smithsonian Fantastic Journey,” CBS at 8: Another of Dan Rather’s informative adventures at the great museum features reports on sharks, endangered cheetahs, NASA’s plans for a space station and research that will tell us more about the lives of America’s earliest settlers.

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