When first flipping on "Amber Frey: Witness for the Prosecution," you might think you've stumbled across an infomercial for the bestselling book "The Purpose Driven Life."
A quote from the spiritual self-help tome opens the CBS TV movie about Scott Peterson's ex-girlfriend and references to it are peppered throughout the two-hour drama.
Based on Frey's recently published memoirs, "Witness for the Prosecution" recounts the Fresno woman's short-lived relationship with Peterson and her involvement in the investigation and trial that led to his murder conviction.
The film's actors are dopplegängers for their real-life counterparts, but what they have in appearance they lack in depth. Viewers will understand little more about Frey, a 30-year-old massage therapist and single mother of two young children, after watching the movie.
In fact, the entire production is revelationfree — close case watchers will glean few, if any, new insights.
Janel Moloney (Donna Moss on "The West Wing") plays Frey as a young mother simply looking for Mr. Right. Though Frey was involved in the production, her true personality remains a mystery.
Nathan Anderson portrays Peterson as a smooth operator, quick with a compliment and ready with chilled champagne. He has Peterson's boyish looks down, but none of the stone-faced demeanor that later characterized the convicted killer's public persona.
Had it not been for the drama we know will unfold, the couple's bland first meeting — where they eat sushi and karaoke to "Islands in the Stream" — would seem like a boring episode of "Blind Date."
Date stamps at the beginning of scenes move the viewer through the case's headline events, including the Christmas party where the couple had their now-infamous pictures taken.
Shortly after, in unsubtle foreshadowing, Frey reads her daughter a bedtime story that warns, "Don't judge a book by its cover."
Then, around Dec. 24, 2002, the date Laci Peterson is reported missing, Frey awakes from a nightmare where Peterson is hurting a dark-haired woman.
Afterward, Frey learns that Peterson is married and that his pregnant wife is missing. She contacts police, who — at first — distrust her.
Trust is a recurring theme. Frey's trust of Peterson. Frey's trust of her friends. Frey's trust of the police.
After she agrees to record her conversations with Peterson for police, the remainder of the film is paced by phone calls. Already well-documented, these exchanges are a series of sweet nothings and denials.
Interestingly, the program leaves viewers with an ambivalent view of Peterson. His tears of remorse and concern for Frey seem strangely genuine.
After the tabloids print racy pictures from Frey's past, Peterson is the only person who shows outrage.
When she sends him a copy of — what else — "The Purpose Driven Life," he seems moved and later writes to her about it from prison.
What should be a chilling recount of Peterson's deceptions feelslikeCourtTVreenactmentsbylook-alike mannequins.Thepainand betrayal that someone in Frey's situation would feel is missing.
Frey's attorney Gloria Allred is played by "Saturday Night Live" alum Nora Dunn. Allred serves as one of the project's executive producers, and it shows. Even with limited screen time, Dunn's portrayal comes off as a glorified ego stroke.
At attorney and client's first meeting, Frey asks Allred why she is taking her case for free.
"Why did you go to the police?" Allred asks back.
"It was the right thing to do," Frey replies.
Hey Gloria, why not just flash your business card across the screen while you're at it?
The film's one emotionally resonant moment is Frey's first meeting with Sharon Rocha.
Laci's mother asks Frey, "You have a baby, don't you?" When she affirms, Rocha says, "I think mine are gone."
"Witness for the Prosecution" could use more of those flickers of humanity, more acknowledgments of the loss and tragedy. Without them, the movie is reduced to product placements and vanity endorsements.
"Amber Frey: Witness for the Prosecution" airs from 8-10 p.m. Wednesday on KOVR 13 and from 9-11 p.m. on other CBS affiliates.
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at 578-2284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.