Picks and Pans Review: Woman on the Run: the Lawrencia Bembenek Story

updated 05/17/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/17/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

NBC (Sun., May 16, 9 p.m. ET)

C

Tatum O'Neal returns to acting in this two-part dramatization, which unabashedly champions "Bambi" Bembenek. The Milwaukee woman was convicted in 1981 of murdering her husband's ex-wife, then escaped from prison in 1990 and fled to Canada, where-lie was recaptured alter being profiled on America's Most Wanted.

The film, the second TV movie based on the outlandish case, laboriously absolves Bembenek of guilt not once but three times. First, it strongly suggests that she was railroaded in court by suspect testimony from her husband (Bruce Greenwood) and a bitter former friend (Catherine Disher), badly represented by her defense attorney (Kenneth Welsh) and sandbagged by the police.

Later, a skeptical journalist (Saul Rubinek) begins looking into the case and uncovers numerous instances of doctored or suppressed evidence. Finally, years afterward, her conviction is reexamined and shot full of holes by the Canadian lawyers who are fighting her extradition back to the U.S. (Bembenek eventually returned to Wisconsin, pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of second-degree murder and was paroled last December. She's written a book about her experiences and is currently considering law school.)

Not only is it slanted; the film is also hollow at the core because there's still a good deal of rust on O'Neal's acting skills. She rarely raises her voice above a tentative whisper until late in the second night.

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