HBO's 'Witness Protection' is another case of "great idea, lousy execution." 

A Glimpse Inside

How much do you know about how the Witness Protection Program works? Not much? Good. That's exactly what the U.S. Marshals Service wants you to know.

Founded in 1970, the Witness Security Program — that's its real name — is deliberately shrouded in secrecy. Nobody outside the government is supposed to know how many people have since been through the program, although the total number is believed to be more than 7,000. None of those in the program has ever been murdered, although several who subsequently left have been killed.

HBO's "Witness Protection," debuting Saturday, Dec. 11, at 8 p.m., was inspired by a New York Times Magazine article by the only journalist ever allowed access to what goes on behind the scenes. The film fictionalizes what happens when a gangster who plans to give evidence for the prosecution enters the program with his wife and two kids. He quickly finds out the Marshals will take only five days to brief them on what their new life will be like and how to handle it. The stress on the family becomes almost unbearable from Day One.

Tom Sizemore and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio play the gangster and his wife, with Forest Whitaker as the Marshal who supervises their orientation. The premise is indeed intriguing, but there's a fatal flaw: None of the characters, with the exception of Whitaker's, is remotely likable, leaving the audience more than a little ambivalent about what happens to them. Sizemore's character, after all, is a gangster, and his wife and children come off as so whiny you'll want to smack them.

"Witness Protection" is another case of "great idea, lousy execution." If you watch a lot of TV, it's an all-too-familiar


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