Lifetime aims for ratings gold with another true-crime movie

On a Saturday night one year ago, Lifetime drew an astounding 5.8 million viewers for “Drew Peterson: Untouchable.” The fact-based film starred Rob Lowe as the notorious Illinois black widower who is currently awaiting sentencing for the murder of his third wife.

Now Lifetime repeats the formula, hoping to make ratings lightning strike twice.

“Prosecuting Casey Anthony” is a re-creation of the 2011 tabloid trial of the young Florida single mother acquitted in the murder of her 2-year-old daughter.

This time Lowe is on the right side of the law, portraying Jeff Ashton, the assistant state attorney who conducted the case against Anthony. (The film is based on Ashton’s book, “Imperfect Justice,” written with Lisa Pulitzer.)

The bland role of the veteran prosecutor doesn’t give Lowe much to work with. The film is stolen by “The Office’s” Oscar Nunez as Anthony’s relatively inexperienced but cagey attorney, Jose Baez.

The true appeal of th movie lies in our strong residual interest in finding out just how our criminal system could manage to be blinder than Mr. Magoo.

The film begins with Ashton (Lowe) promoting his book. The reporter asks him what went wrong with the case. “You mean other than the verdict?” he responds. “Not a thing.”

Ashton is convinced his case is “rock solid,” and indeed, the script does a thorough job of inventorying all the behaviors and omissions that made Anthony seem so abundantly guilty.

The narrative becomes lopsided as the script continues to loyally adhere to Ashton’s point of view, but about 90 minutes into the movie, one of the TV commentators asks if the state can possibly recover from all the prosecution blunders.

Up to that point you’re unaware that any have occurred.

The focus of “Prosecuting Casey Anthony” should have been on the vast disparity between how this case played on TV and how it played in the jury box.

So why no conviction? One theory is that it fell victim to the “CSI” effect. Jurors are so used to prime time’s high-tech procedurals, they expect to be presented with irrefutable forensic evidence.

Some analysts argue that the jury didn’t sufficiently grasp the principle of reasonable doubt.

Or maybe Ashton was pursuing the wrong strategy from the start. When he takes the case, Ashton vows, “When I get done with her, she’s going to be the most hated woman in America.”

‘Prosecuting Casey Anthony’

8 p.m. tonight on Lifetime.

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