TV MOVIE "Big Driver"
WHEN | WHERE Premieres Saturday night at 8 on Lifetime
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Lifetime wants to be more than your mother's stop for soapy shows and women-in-jeopardy flicks. This is a channel aching for the big leagues. But for every clever "Drop Dead Diva," there's a "Dance Moms." For every stylish "Lizzie Borden" movie with Christina Ricci, there's some cheap Canadian-cast time-waster.
So be grateful that this weekend brings the big-time stab -- not using the word loosely -- of the Stephen King story "Big Driver." No-slouch star Maria Bello is joined by Oscar-winner Olympia Dukakis in the tale of a mystery writer who meets the title character on a deserted country road. You can guess what the big dude does to our lone woman lead.
If not, director Mikael Salomon and writer Richard Christian Matheson spell it out in a graphic 10-minute attack sequence that even scares Bello's chat-pal GPS voice, Tom. Left barely alive, our lead goes a little loopy, then gets herself together, and doesn't just get mad. She pursues payback.
MY SAY Viewers had better steel themselves, again. This is Stephen King, after all -- ugly encounters, copious violence, unsettling suspense, "and of course the possibility of a dreary cellmate."
That's King's wit, along for the ride, mostly in the person of Dukakis as Bello's companion/apparition, one of the Knitting Society ladies sleuthing through her novels. She's a shoulder to cry on, a nagging critic, a logic lawyer reminding Bello how killers "often overlook the obvious." Also droll: increasingly ubiquitous supporting player Ann Dowd ("Masters of Sex," "The Leftovers"), as always delightfully sly, no matter how sweet or sinister her surface.
That helps leaven the utter creepiness of pretty much the tale's entirety, from that prolonged attack (enough already), to Bello's gross after state, to the vengeful swath she then cuts through the countryside. Bello makes it worth the sometimes slog, acting mostly by her lonesome, working through the writer's sense of violation, pain, second-guessing, recovery and retribution. It's much the way an author contemplates plot options.
BOTTOM LINE Solid star turn, eerie production values, even a killer ending. Nice symmetry, Steve.