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"DEAD' ON ARRIVAL

Real-life married couple Corbin Bernsen (scoundrel Arnie Becker on L.A. Law) and Amanda Pays (research scientist Tina McGee on The Flash) didn't want a traditional romantic story to co-star in for their first TV pairing. Dead on the Money is a thriller that reaches for black-comedy status, but doesn't quite make it because it's not nearly wacky enough. Still, this TNT drama with Bernsen and Pays does manage to spin the viewer around a bit, so that by the end you're feeling dizzy and disappointed.

Pays plays the beautiful, innocent, aspiring actress Jennifer Ashford, who lands in a whirlwind romance with Bernsen's Carter Matthews, a man whose mind is set on making fast money. When Carter asks strange things of her, Jennifer's wariness surfaces, but she's apparently in for the adventure at this point.

Unfortunately, the adventure for all of us watching isn't that exciting. The wooing between Jennifer and Carter is hardly breath-taking. For heaven's sake, Bernsen performs a bedroom scene dressed in a sleeveless T-shirt and boxer shorts. Get wardrobe on the phone, please.

Carter is trying to use Jennifer to get some loot out of his rich relatives. And what makes this story about his gold-digging remotely interesting is that all of the characters are hard to figure. True, Carter wants instant dough, but is he really fond of Jennifer? Is his wealthy cousin Russell Blake (John Glover) as flaky as he seems? Russell's mother and father, Catherine (Eleanor Parker) and Waverly (Kevin McCarthy), are shallow, rich and self-centered, but what game is each of them playing as well?

The surprise comes in learning that sweet Jennifer has her own calculated ambitions.

But Dead on the Money only poses questions about its cast. There isn't much depth, and even at the end after the viewer has seen what happens and heard all the background, the mystery of motivation still lingers.

The character with the finest (and funniest) development is Jennifer's mother, Mrs. Roach, played delightfully by Sheree North. She bluntly states what she's about and how she feels about events around her. When Jennifer brings her new man Carter around to the nursing home to meet mom who's been disabled in an accident, Mrs. Roach acknowledges he's good-looking. But she tells her daughter to latch on to money, not love.

When Mrs. Roach is finished dealing with people, she slips on her earphones _ end of conversation. Such looniness should abound in a good black comedy, but instead Dead on the Money offers vagueness and at times, dullness.

No one seems to really get to know each other in this drama. Jennifer slips from a relationship with down-on-his-luck Carter to marriage with Russell and a totally different lifestyle. And she does it all without blinking a long eyelash.

She's worried about her own safety, yet she walks right into every dangerous situation presented her. As a heroine in a thriller, Jennifer lacks the necessary backbone. Yet except for her mother she's the strongest of the wimps in this story.

Bernsen and Pays have chosen a different kind of love tale to spend their energies on in this TNT project. But Dead on the Money isn't intriguing enough to make their investment of time and talent worthwhile.

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