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Who Is Clark Rockefeller? -- TV Review

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Con men. Those charming devils who smile as they plunge the knife in your back, then make you want to thank them for the privilege. Hollywood, and let's face it, audiences, love 'em.

A doozy of a con-man story is the draw for Lifetime's original movie "Who Is Clark Rockefeller?" based on the real-life German national who lived for years as a faux-relative of the wealthy, philanthropic clan. Everything unraveled after his divorce from a lawyer, after which he kidnapped his daughter and went on the run. The scandal had a happy ending but went national because of the elaborate, high-society tinge to the scam. It's a great story but one that warranted better than "Rockefeller," which barely rises above an extended "Dateline" re-enactment.

Not for the efforts of its leads, however; Eric McCormack and Sherry Stringfield are capable actors who deserve better in the roles of lying husband and lied-to wife.

McCormack is having a hell of a time, with an erudite accent and too-correct mannerisms that border on parody, a spot-on choice for a foreigner trying to play to-the-American-manor born. Stringfield is lush and identifiable as the brilliant lawyer who -- once the ruse is unveiled -- insists she's just not as emotionally intelligent as she is intellectually. It's her way of saying, "This could happen to anyone."

But that's where it all breaks down. As told, "Rockefeller," which jumps between current-day shenanigans and the once-happy pair's courtship, is utterly conventional in structure and tone. It's not as brainless as merely sequentially spitting out events, but it ruins any chance for the film to be more than just "good enough for TV." Yes, we find out who Clark Rockefeller is, but the why and how is left to the imagination. Such lack of scratching beneath the surface leaves a very shallow story, indeed.

Unsurprisingly, the most interesting part of "Rockefeller" is the con man himself. It's certainly not his wife, who after playing patsy is relegated to passive participant in the FBI investigation. Rockefeller, on the other hand, is a man of deception, mystery and action. What a shame, then, that we're never allowed to do more than look in on his twisted view of the world. Ultimately, the con is really on the viewers.

Airdate: 9-11 p.m. Saturday, March 13 (Lifetime)
Production: Sony Pictures Television
Cast: Eric McCormack, Sherry Stringfield, Emily Alyn Lind, Stephen McHattie, Regina Taylor
Executive producers: Ilene Kahn Power, Judith Verno
Creator-writer: Edithe Swensen
Co-executive producer: Mikael Salomon
Producers: Edithe Swenson, John M. Eckert
Director: Mikael Salomon
Director of photography: John Dyer
Production designer: Rocco Matteo
Costume designer: Christopher Hargadon
Casting: Susan Edelman