Spike TV's "The Kill Point" is a bank-heist-gone-wrong story with water-retention issues. Really, it should be presented as a lean, taut crime movie that reviewers inevitably compare to Spike Lee's "Inside Man," say, or "Dog Day Afternoon." Instead, writer-producer James DeMonaco has inflated the material into an eight-hour miniseries set to air over the next six weeks. Alas, "The Kill Point" will distend long before it ends.
And that's too bad, because the opening two hours, tomorrow night at 9, are engaging. The situation is extremely familiar, as a gang of robbers led by John Leguizamo's Mr. Wolf take hostages in a Pittsburgh bank and then deal with negotiator Horst Cali, played by Donnie Wahlberg. It's Standoff 101, with SWAT teams surrounding the bank while Wolf tells Cali, "This thing ends with us either free or dead." Meanwhile, of course, the hostages shake with fear, including a skittish bank manager, a reckless rich girl, and a man with a bad heart.
But familiarity doesn't always breed boredom when the pace is as brisk and the cat-and-mouse play is as tricky as it is here. DeMonaco also adds a clever tweak by making the robbers into Iraq War veterans who are bitter about their treatment after serving their country. We can't easily dismiss Wolf and his pack as greedy thugs, as we might in most heist stories, and neither can the hostages. And we might even find ourselves rooting for the bad guys. At one point, Wolf is outside the bank yelling "I came home to sickness and nightmares" and revealing the many scars on his body. Railing against the war in Iraq, and the shortage of flak jackets, his speech wins big cheers from the crowd of bystanders.
Also helping "The Kill Point" are a pair of likable, straightforward performances by Leguizamo and Wahlberg. Leguizamo gains our sympathies without asking for pity, and it's easy to see why the other vets have pledged loyalty to him. And Wahlberg brings both drive and cynicism as Cali deals with FBI politics and the pressures exerted by the rich-girl hostage's father. As these two men under serious pressure work it out, they fit into Spike's testosterone-fueled milieu without veering into macho.
But I fear for viewers of the subsequent episodes, as the claustrophobia of the bank sinks in and the negotiations begin to spin circles around one another. By the end of tomorrow's presentation, tedium is already beginning to rear its head. Will the setup slide into preposterousness as events outside the bank come to bear on the crisis? Will we have to explore the histories of the hostages and the robbers? ABC's series "The Nine," about the fallout from a bank hostage situation, sacrificed the suspense of the bank standoff to look into the characters' lives, and viewers fled after only a few episodes.
When it comes to character drama, layering is everything. But with a conventional piece of work such as "The Kill Point," where maintaining tension is essential, thin should be in.