Picks and Pans Review: Call Me

updated 04/05/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/05/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The Rise and Fall of Heidi Fleiss
USA (Mon., March 29, 9 p.m. ET)


Exploitation? Titillation? Certainly not. This is an educational TV movie about Heidi Fleiss, who ran a lucrative sex business catering to the rich and famous before she did a prison stretch in the late '90s. The notorious "Hollywood Madam" (Jamie-Lynn DiScala from The Sopranos) has lessons to impart.

On the one hand: Money is "like sex—the more you get, the more you want." On the other: "Sooner or later, you're going to get caught." Life stinks: "It's called the world's oldest profession. I'm not really sure if they mean prostitution or betrayal." Or it doesn't: "The world is not such a bad place and we're lucky to be here." That last one comes as Fleiss is getting out of jail and anticipating the moneymaking opportunities available to someone famous for being famous. Naturally, she's optimistic.

DiScala isn't particularly believable as a rookie hooker, a suddenly successful madam or the drug-abusing target of duplicitous cops. But such criticism may be beside the point, since the film suggests that Fleiss herself—described as a "nice Jewish girl" on the surface—was miscast as a madam. Call Me's main weakness is that it can't decide whether to be an exposé, a satire or a peep show. It fails to follow up on a charge by has-been director Ivan Nagy (Robert Davi), Fleiss's former boyfriend, that the L.A. police winked at prostitution in return for sexual favors. There's a fleeting reference to Charlie Sheen, one of Fleiss's best-known clients, but he's not portrayed onscreen. We do see a powerful producer (Corbin Bernsen) who requires three hookers' help to achieve a satisfactory climax. Too bad he's referred to only as Steve. Appropriately, it's this mover and shaker with no last name who persuades Fleiss not to burn bridges by identifying her celebrity clients in a memoir.

The cold truth is that a movie about Fleiss's relationship with actor Tom Sizemore—convicted last year of physically abusing her—might be of more interest than this look back at old scandal.

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