William H. Macy's performance makes "A Slight Case of Murder" sizzle. 

More than Slightly Great

"A Slight Case of Murder"
Debuts Sunday, Sept. 19 at 8 p.m.
Repeats at 10 p.m. and midnight

Television's summer rerun doldrums don't end for another week or so, but there's a bright, sparkling patch of sunshine just around the corner that should perk up your spirits enormously. And it's probably more fun than a lot of what we'll see when the major networks unveil their fall seasons later this month.

This dazzling made-for-TV movie, "A Slight Case of Murder," has a lot going for it — a quirky and involving plot, a slick production and a stellar cast. But the front man is what makes this film such a bubbling delight: William H. Macy, who for the early part of his professional life may have been one of his generation's most under-appreciated actors.

It was a character named Jerry Lundegaard — that's right, the conniving car dealer in "Fargo" — who changed all that. Macy got to pull out all the stops, and the role earned him a well-deserved Oscar nomination. Since then, it's been all blue skies and green lights for Macy, with roles in "Pleasantville," "Boogie Nights," "Wag the Dog," "Air Force One" and the remake of "Psycho." Just as he reached what should be the midpoint of his career, Macy clearly hit his stride.

Without Macy, "A Slight Case of Murder" would still be a fairly good movie. With him, it crackles and sizzles like a drop of cold water on a hot griddle.

The movie is based on Donald E. Westlake's comic novella "A Travesty." Macy plays Terry Thorpe, for whom life is good. He's a movie critic on TV, with his face plastered on the sides of transit buses, and he teaches college classes in the history of film. He's also what our parents would have called a cad, but that's just one of the things that makes his life so deliciously complete — so long as his stable of luscious women keep to their own stalls and don't discover that there are other mares in the running.

Then the unexpected happens. Thorpe is having a slight disagreement after dinner with one of his bevy of bedmates when she slips on an ice cube, falls, and fatally cracks her head on the edge of a coffee table. Thorpe's life begins to read like the script for one of his film-noir favorites, with more than a twist of wry.

Thorpe's plan to leave the body for someone else to discover turns out to be a bad one: His dead beauty's husband has hired a private detective to spy on his wife, and the P.I. snaps off a few pictures as Thorpe leaves the scene.

Blackmail, reverse blackmail, a comic bank robbery that will leave you laughing out loud, and a policeman with a screenplay and a wife who adores old movies are only a few of the surprising turns in this suspenseful, comic thriller. And it doesn't hurt that Adam Arkin ("Chicago Hope") as the policeman and Felicity Huffman ("Sports Night;" she's also Macy's real-life wife) as another of Thorpe's bedmates, get to have more fun in their roles than the law oughta allow.

"A Slight Case of Murder" is a tour de force for Macy — and the rest of the small cast — and just when you think Thorpe has it all under control, the story ends with a twist that wraps the whole package up with a big red bow. Don't miss "A Slight Case of Murder." It's well worth your

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