Read in a Heartbeat" has one thing and one thing only going for it: a breathtakingly imaginative premise.
A hotshot cardiac surgeon loses a young patient during a complex, groundbreaking operation. Was she overreaching? Did she take on the complicated surgery in a sincere belief that she could pull it off? Or was it hubris, a shot at breaking new ground (and the attention she'd get) that drove her? Did she adequately explain to the boy's parents the awful risks involved?
The boy's father thinks she did it for all the wrong reasons and plots his revenge. He takes a job as a volunteer in the hospital where the doctor works and carefully, methodically, systematically, he conceives a plan to destroy her. He plants miniature bombs in pacemakers she's about to insert in the chests of her patients. A cell phone is his detonator: He dials up the pacemakers after they're inserted and BOOM! The patients explode from the inside out.
Diabolical, isn't it?
In the hands of a talented writer, an adequate director and a mildly gifted cast, the suspense could be devastating. Will the police be able to suss out what's making patients' chests explode? Will they be able to stop the madman before he kills again? Will the arrogant surgeon learn that a doctor is equal parts skill and compassion? And since this a TV movie, will she fall in love with the head of the police bomb squad?
The answers are yes, no, sorta, and probably.
There you have it. I've just saved you two hours of excruciating boredom. You may e-mail me a thank-you note if you're so inclined.
"Dead in a Heartbeat" fails because the producer, Daniel L. Paulson (here's where we'd insert the name of his latest hit movie, if only he had one), and the writers, Mark Rosman and Richard Ades (ditto), don't seem to know what to do with this intriguing plot once they get past the first mysteriously exploding upper-chest quadrant. Instead of a taut, suspenseful drama, they've created two hours of boredom punctuated by the occasional exploding torso.
And except for Timothy Busfield ("thirtysomething" and more recently "The West Wing"), who provides a modicum of interest as the vengeful father, the cast is no help either. Judge Reinhold ("Beverly Hills Cop") could easily have phoned in his performance as the bomb-squad detective, and Penelope Ann Miller ("Carlito's Way") bears as much resemblance to a gifted cardiac surgeon as I do to Geoffrey Chaucer.
There are sloppy lapses in "Dead in a Heartbeat," too, such as when a cop across the room reacts to what another cop is hearing on the phone before he tells him. And another thing: Is it technically feasible to patch a heart monitor into a phone and send a pulse count to the screen of a cell phone? I wondered about that last question for a brief moment, then decided I felt the same about that as I felt about the movie as a whole: I didn't really care.
If, by some unlucky chance, you happen to stumble onto either the debut or one of the seemingly endless repeats of "Dead in a Heartbeat," you might find yourself intrigued for the first 10 minutes. After that, the wooden acting, the banal plot and the careless direction will begin to bore you, and you'll bail.
That's an option I wish I could have exercised.Debuts on TBS on Sunday, Jan. 20, at 8 p.m., with repeats through Feb. 9. firstname.lastname@example.org