November 17, 2003 12:00 PM

CBS (Sun., Nov. 9, 9 p.m. ET)


“Everyone everywhere remembers the story of Elizabeth Smart,” NBC’s Katie Couric said last month in her prime-time special on the subject. That’s only a slight exaggeration, thanks to the media’s saturation coverage of the Utah teenager’s kidnapping. So much of the investigation and the anguish seems to have played out in public that this TV movie, though fairly competent, is doomed to redundancy.

The filmmakers take a no-frills, chronological approach, following the twists and turns of the case from the night in June 2002 when vagrant religious fanatic Brian David Mitchell (Tom Everett) allegedly snatched Elizabeth (Amber Marshall) from the bedroom she shared with younger sister Mary Katherine (Hannah Lochner). Though we see Mitchell tyrannizing Elizabeth and his wife, Wanda (Hollis McLaren), and hear him spouting semiscriptural mumbo jumbo, the movie never really tries to get inside his head. The emphasis is on the struggle of Elizabeth’s parents, Ed (Dylan Baker) and Lois (Lindsay Frost), to keep the police, the public and themselves believing that the mystery is solvable and their daughter is still alive. Baker overacts early on but has a poignant moment when Ed takes a polygraph test and gives a sad, weary “no” to the question of whether he killed Elizabeth. Frost is solid throughout, and Marshall effectively plays Elizabeth as a girl who keeps a flicker of hope alive while submitting to her captors.

Still, the drama is critically short on emotional impact. Without afresh angle, this is a story too many viewers already know backwards and forwards.

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