As good as she has been in TV movies such as God Bless the Child, Off the Minnesota Strip, and Amber Waves, Mare Winningham must have known she has become television’s biggest boo-boo face, the medium’s noblest sob-sister, able to endure all sorts of prime-time suffering without becoming too pathetic. Homelessness, prostitution, nuclear fallout — our Mare has seen it all.

So Winningham must have jumped at the chance to do something different and play Kim Paris, a real-life private detective who made the tabloids when she became involved with a murder suspect she had been hired to track down. As scandals go, this isn’t terribly shocking, but the way director Roger Young and screenwriter Alan Sharp present her, Kim Paris is fascinating: a detective who enjoyed going undercover so much that she became her assumed character.

In Love and Lies, Winningham’s Kim turns herself into friendly, sexy Theresa and cozies up to murder suspect David West (sex, lies and videotape‘s Peter Gallagher). Soon she’s shocked to and that this soft-spoken fellow has not only murdered his former girlfriend’s parents, but also charmed the proverbial pants off her.

The two fall in love, and Kim/Theresa starts to rationalize West’s crime, finding herself in a heap of trouble with her detective agency and the police — to say nothing of the fact that she never seemed to get around to telling West who she really was.

Love and Lies is about a woman approaching life like a Method actor: When she was getting into one of her roles, Kim insisted her colleagues call her by her assumed name and worked out elaborate histories for her characters. It’s great fun to watch the skilled, subtle Winningham play Kim playing Theresa. And Gallagher, with his bristly eyebrows and wide slash of a mouth, makes a perfect combination victim-victimizer.

Love and Lies contains some clunky dialogue — ”Undercover doesn’t mean you have to get under the covers,” Winningham says shortly before bedding down with West. But it’s great to see this actress let loose in an alluring role. A-