Picks and Pans Review: James Dean

updated 08/06/2001 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/06/2001 AT 01:00 AM EDT

TNT (Sun., Aug. 5, 8 p.m. ET)

This biopic should draw all those James Dean cultists who lament that the brooding star made just three films—East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant—before a 1955 car crash cut short his life at age 24. "The greatest joy for me is that it feels like...the fourth James Dean movie," says scriptwriter Israel Horovitz in the TNT press kit. There's no joy in noting that it sometimes plays like a parody of a James Dean movie.

James Franco (Freaks and Geeks) has the shifting glance, the slouching posture, the shambling gait, but mastering Dean's mannerisms isn't the same as capturing his mystery. After focusing intently on the actor's aching need for approval from his cold, distant father (Michael Moriarty), Horovitz and director Mark Rydell (who also takes the colorful role of studio boss Jack Warner) produce a simple explanation for the familial strain and place Dean on an emotional upswing that makes his early death seem all the more tragic. But our final feeling is frustration as an onscreen disclaimer acknowledges that part of this story is merely "an educated guess."

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