September 06, 1999 12:00 PM

Showtime (Sun., Sept. 5, 8 p.m. ET)

“I make jokes sometimes about things that aren’t really very funny—that’s how I deal with the horror,” says a cop (Marg Helgenberger) investigating a grisly slaying in Happy Face Murders. Presumably that was the thinking behind this misguided, erratic attempt at black comedy (loosely based on fact). Ann-Margret stars as a 58-year-old grandmother and TV mystery fan who tells the police that her abusive, 39-year-old boyfriend (Nicholas Campbell) killed a mildly retarded young woman. As A-M keeps revising her story—talking herself into so much trouble that she’s arrested as an accomplice—the murder flashbacks proliferate, each more gruesome than the last. Then another suspect (Rick Peters) emerges, and his account, too, is illustrated as unpleasantly as possible. The filmmakers play up the irony in certain details, particularly the smiley-face symbols on Peters’s written confessions. But they don’t seem to realize how much the horror outweighs the humor.

Bottom Line: Something to frown on

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