05/29/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
Showtime (Sat., May 27, 9 p.m. ET)
Show of the week
At times this docudrama resembles a debating society, but the issues it addresses are vitally important. The subject is the 1990 trial of Dennis Barrie (James Woods), then director of Cincinnati's Contemporary Arts Center, who was charged with obscenity by Sheriff Simon Leis (Craig T. Nelson) for presenting a Robert Mapplethorpe photo exhibit that included images of gay sex and sadomasochism. Woods plays Barrie not as an unshakable champion of free expression but as a reluctant hero who almost loses his stomach for the fight when his wife (Diana Scarwid) and sons suffer harassment and many in the community turn against him. "I can't back down now," Barrie says with a very human mixture of courage and helplessness.
Dirty Pictures supplements the script with point-counterpoint commentary by William F. Buckley Jr., Congressman Barney Frank and others. These opinions have weight, but they cause the courtroom drama to suffer from forensic overload.
Bottom Line: Worth arguing about