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Two Dramas from Lifetime

Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy (July 4/11)

Based on the notorious true story, Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy details the events leading up to and following the death of British student Meredith Kercher (Amanda Fernando Stevens) - with a particular emphasis placed on the exploits of suspected killer Amanda Knox (Hayden Panettiere). There's ultimately never a point at which Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy doesn't play like a reenactment on America's Most Wanted, as filmmaker Robert Dornhelm, working from Wendy Battles' script, has infused the proceedings with a simplistic, thoroughly amateurish feel that holds the viewer at arm's length from start to finish. The inherently fascinating nature of the true-life case is, as a result, diminished significantly, and it does become more and more difficult to work up any sympathy for (or interest in) the central character's increasingly grave situation. And while the absence of impartiality is certainly a bold choice - as far as the filmmakers are concerned, Knox was railroaded by crooked cops and an incompetent legal system - the movie suffers from a repetitive midsection that's bogged down in the technical details surrounding the investigation. Panettiere's surprisingly decent performance is subsequently rendered moot, and it's impossible not to wish that Dornhelm had made a more diligent effort to get inside Knox's head. The end result is a consistently underwhelming piece of work that simply isn't able to justify its existence, with Dornhelm's surface-level approach to an exceedingly well-known case cementing Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy's place as a needless endeavor.

out of

The Stepson (July 6/11)

As terrible as one might have anticipated, The Stepson follows Christina Cox's Donna May as she reluctantly allows the title character (Jon McLaren's Kevin), a former troublemaker, back into her home after the sudden death of her husband (Chris Potter's Robert) - with the film subsequently detailing Donna's growing suspicion that Kevin isn't quite the rehabilitated figure he appears to be. It's a reasonably compelling premise that's employed to consistently lackluster effect by director Anthony Lefresne, as the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with a pervasively low-rent feel that's nothing short of disastrous. The film's vibe of total incompetence, which is reflected in everything from the score to the performances to the sets, is exacerbated by its unconscionably deliberate pace, which ultimately ensures that the soap opera-esque sleaziness of the storyline is rendered completely and utterly moot. The periodic inclusion of unintentionally laughable elements - eg Kevin, in a flashback to his rebellious teens, is shown wearing a sideways baseball cap - proves effective at temporarily buoying one's interest, while Adam Beach (!) turns in an expectedly strong performance as a concerned friend of Donna's. By the time the rather baffling twist ending rolls around, The Stepson has certainly established itself as an almost impressively worthless movie-of-the-week that's sure to alienate even the most easygoing couch potato.

out of

About the DVD: Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy arrives on DVD courtesy of New Video Group, armed with an anamorphically-enhanced transfer and a made-for-television documentary on the true-life story.
© David Nusair