By Ken Tucker
Updated February 10, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST
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Texas Justice

type
  • TV Show
network
  • Syndicated

Leave it to Heather Locklear to remind us why the long-form made-for-television movie was invented. In the four-hour Texas Justice, Locklear plays the infinitely desirable Priscilla Hatcher in a gleefully lurid version of a true-life murder case. As she has most recently proven in Melrose Place, Locklear is an ideal television actress who excels at mean-minded melodrama. She may not have the glamorous richness of a movie star, but she deploys the sort of sexy superficiality that comes across on the small screen as both excitingly realistic and giddily exaggerated. She is what is commonly called a hoot.

Teamed up here with TV-movie talisman Peter Strauss (who in 1976’s Rich Man, Poor Man helped invent his genre), Locklear is endlessly amusing as Priscilla, the sort of up-from-white-trash vamp who thinks she’s making a social statement by wearing a gold necklace that forms the words ”Rich Bitch.” (”Bein’ married to Fort Knox does have its advantages,” says Priscilla with a sleazy grin.) Set in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Texas Justice is a well-executed American period piece, a backhanded salute to an era whose salient quality was its own garish bad taste.

When the love between Priscilla and her gottrocks Fort Worth businessman husband T. Cullen Davis (Strauss) goes sour, Locklear gets to pull out all the stops: She becomes a woman wronged, a woman possessed, a woman frequently undressed. Decked out in a dazzling succession of miniskirts, go-go boots, and groovy blond wigs, Locklear somehow manages to defeat her own wardrobe and turn in a skilled performance. Under the direction of Dick Lowry, however, skill is never permitted to obscure sledgehammer obviousness. Which is to say, even if you find Texas Justice silly, it’s worth hanging around for the second night just to have Priscilla produce the derringer she keeps in her garter for quick protection.

<p. Based on Gary Cartwright's 1994 book Blood Will Tell, Texas Justice is just fact-based enough to seem plausible, and just hoked up enough to be grandly entertaining. There’s a showcase role for NYPD Blue‘s Dennis Franz, who gets to drop both his mustache and his Chicago accent and try on a subtle drawl while portraying real-life lawyer Richard ”Racehorse” Haynes, who defends Davis in the face of a murder charge.

The way the movie tells it, after Priscilla and Davis’ marriage collapses and Priscilla takes up with another man, a vengeful intruder breaks into Priscilla’s house, kills her 12-year-old daughter and the lover, and wounds Priscilla. She claims the man who did it was Davis; he says he’s innocent.

As always, Strauss speaks slowly and deliberately — he’s a barely animated monument to grim stoicism. The same scaled-down mannerisms that would make him a bland blur in feature films are just what give his TV acting such a charge. When Davis glimpses Priscilla outside the courtroom, after not seeing her for a long time, Strauss stands like a statue but makes his left cheek muscle twitch. It’s a tiny moment made all the more effective for the way Strauss and director Lowry toss it off so quickly.

Once the crimes are committed, much of Texas Justice is taken up with Davis’ multiple trials, but the TV movie manages to avoid most of the clichés and predictable rhythms that have been known to plague television courtroom scenes. It is a measure of the deftness of teleplay author T.S. Cook that Davis’ defense seems as plausible as Priscilla’s prosecution, and that the question of guilt never finds an obvious answer. TV movies have spent the past few years in creative crisis, first bloating out to ridiculous lengths, then starving themselves on a meager diet of docudrama facts and figures. Texas Justice — exciting, trashy, engrossing, and fun —brings some much-needed vitality back to the form. A-

Texas Justice

type
  • TV Show
rating
status
  • In Season
network
  • Syndicated

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