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Love, Cheat & Steal

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I’ll watch anything with Eric Roberts, one of the acting profession’s more intriguing ticking time bombs, but Love, Cheat & Steal (Showtime, Dec. 5, 8-10 p.m.) is pretty much a dud. Roberts is Reno Adams, a brutal convict who busts out of jail to hunt down the woman, a former accomplice, who sent him up the river for a murder. She is portrayed by Twin Peaks’ Madchen Amick, whose Lauren has recently married Paul, an earnest banker played by John Lithgow. Writer-director William Curran seems to be going for a brooding pulp-thriller tone, but he has cluttered his story with the slow tale of Lithgow’s discovery that his father (Donald Moffat) is involved with money-laundering and Colombian drug dealers. I mean, who cares about that when you’ve got Roberts at his mumbly-mouthed meanest, his prodigious pectorals popping beneath his T- shirt like microwaving popcorn, and yelling like Jimmy Cagney, ”Ya set me up!” Roberts has perfected a way of making over-the-top self-parody endlessly entertaining, and Amick does a good job of embodying Lauren’s bad-girl-gone- good ambivalence. But Love, Cheat & Steal never quite achieves the satisfyingly low-down grubbiness to which it aspires. C+