February 07, 2000 12:00 PM

CBS (Sun., Feb. 6, 9 p.m. ET)

A mystery plot doesn’t have to be constructed perfectly, or even plausibly, if the author makes good use of it to reveal character. The disappointing thing about this slow-paced Hallmark Hall of Fame drama, adapted from Ron Hansen’s novel Atticus, is its failure to penetrate to the emotional core of the central relationship. We never feel the acute sense of loss and regret that spurs a Colorado rancher named Atticus Cody (James Co-burn) to search for the truth about the apparent suicide of his artist son Scott (Paul Kersey) in Mexico. Beyond mere curiosity, we have no stake in solving the puzzle.

Coburn, who won an Academy Award last year for playing the ogreish father in Affliction, fares well as a rather crusty yet sympathetic parent. He’s clearly the main attraction. As Scott’s sometime girlfriend, Lisa Zane should be enigmatic but seems merely indifferent. Though a more authentic Mexican atmosphere would have helped, the main problem here is the teleplay, which flattens the original story in an attempt to simplify it.

Bottom Line: Doesn’t fit together

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