It's been said that the better Pittsburgh looks on screen, the worse the movie (think: "Striking Distance"), and the worse Pittsburgh looks, the better the movie (think: "Wonder Boys"). Spike TV's "The Kill Point" (9 tonight) splits the difference.
Starring: John Leguizamo.
Pittsburgh sparkles, but the first hour of this eight-hour series is nothing special. Partially that's the nature of the story: We've seen bank-robbery-turned-hostage dramas before and fairly recently, too, so creating a fresh take is a challenge that "Kill Point" doesn't overcome. But, unlike ABC's "The Nine," which started strong and quickly petered out, "Kill Point" becomes more engrossing in tonight's second hour.
While the first hour is marred by clunky dialogue, characters making unbelievable decisions and disappointing performances from a few supporting players, the second hour offers more fully developed characters and better plot twists.
"The Kill Point" begins with a normal day at Three Rivers Trust in Market Square as nerdy, officious bank manager Abe Shelton (Geoffrey Cantor) receives the day's money drop from armored truck guards. This is inter-cut with scenes of Mr. Wolf (John Leguizamo) and his crew in their SUV en route to rob the bank. Pittsburghers will get a kick out of their indirect route to Market Square, which appears to take them over the West End Bridge and then off an exit ramp from the Veterans Bridge (perhaps the robbers are lost out-of-towners unacquainted with our confusing road system).
The heist occurs, the five armed robbers exit the bank, a somewhat muddled firefight with police ensues, and the robbers are forced back into the bank. They also take fire from the World's Dumbest FBI Agent, a bank customer who chases the robbers out of the bank and pulls her gun on them before getting shot herself.
Germophobe Pittsburgh police negotiator Horst Cali (Donnie Wahlberg) enters Market Square and tries to take charge of the situation even as deputy chief Abrami (Mike McGlone) breathes down his neck, attempting to apply political pressure.
Although I'm sure "Kill Point" writers James DeMonaco and Todd Harthan knew nothing of Pittsburgh politics when scripting the series (initially the show was set in New York), they manage to capture the cronyism and Democratic political machine that's endemic to local politics.
The real estate magnate father (Tobin Bell) of one of the hostages (Christine Evangelista), who appears to be the Paris Hilton of Pittsburgh, applies political pressure, trying to secure his daughter's freedom. (No mayor is named in the first two hours, but Luke Ravenstahl's photo is visible on the wall of the bank manager's office.)
"[Tick] off the right people, politics prevails," the deputy chief tells Horst.
None of this sits well with the negotiator, who's other oddball trait is that he's a stickler for proper grammar, even worrying about a misplaced apostrophe on a sign during the height of the hostage crisis.
His adversary, Mr. Wolf, has his own concerns, specifically, the war in Iraq. Unbelievable as it seems, he gets a crowd of onlookers to cheer for him when he unleashes a torrent of accusations and apparent justifications for the robbery. He's unhappy about his postwar treatment, including a court-martial that leads local news reporters (hello, Leslie Merrill McCombs!) to brand him a military criminal. Mr. Wolf's demands include a flak jacket for every serviceman in Iraq and "the son of every senator who voted for this war to sign up for active duty."
Thankfully, "The Kill Point" doesn't let Mr. Wolf's rhetoric pass without comment from police Lt. Connie Reubens (the impressive Michael Hyatt), who notes, "This is [baloney]. I saw action and I ain't out robbing banks."
What she actually said was just one of a least four uses of the s-word in these two hours, perhaps a misguided attempt to connote adult programming. "The Kill Point" will not be confused with the grittier, more realistic "The Shield," and although it's admirable to see Spike grasp for a greater level of sophistication, an over-reliance on obscenities seems more calculated than organic.
Tonight's second hour gives viewers a better feel for the characters, especially the hostages. Local actor Bingo O'Malley makes a particularly strong impression as a brave, elderly man stuck inside the bank.
Subsequent "Kill Point" episodes will air at 9 p.m. Sunday and online webisodes featuring getaway driver Deke (Steve Cirbus) are available at spiketv.com.