Friday, January 06, 2023

Reba McEntire’s the Hammer, on Lifetime

She mostly lives out of her truck, like Frances McDormand in Nomadland, but she can send people to jail with the bang of a gavel. Kim Wheeler is one of the last traveling circuit court judges in America, who has just been appointed to dispense justice in a network of remote rural Nevada communities. Unfortunately, her predecessor met a rather untimely death. Since Wheeler is probably even more principled when it comes to applying the law, she inevitably becomes a target too in Reba McEntire’s the Hammer, which premieres tomorrow night on Lifetime.

Technically, Wheeler should have been nick-named “The Gavel.” Regardless, she did indeed go viral when she knocked a crazed defendant cold when he charged the bench on her first day. Apparently, the nomad lifestyle suits her fine, since she never wants to stay in proper motel rooms when traveling the circuit with her bailiff.

Awkwardly, her predecessor died in the trailer park bordello owned by her mildly estranged sister, Kris. Now that she is back in the area, Wheeler tries to patch things up with her, but it is probably too late for her dementia-plagued father, especially since the judge has yet to forgive him for abusing her as a child. Frankly, the abuse-themed sub-plot rather clashes with the TV movie’s generally light-hearted sassy tone.

The biggest case on Wheeler’s docket is the negligent homicide charge lodged against tech entrepreneur Bart Crawford’s surly and entitled son. The late judge refused him bail and Wheeler declines to over-turn his judgement. That definitely makes Crawford a prime suspect, but the judge still finds him strangely fun to drink with.

Indeed, somewhat logically, the best scenes showcase the chemistry between McEntire and her real-life off-screen partner Rex Linn (who recurred on
CSI: Miami and co-starred in the Oscar-worthy Zombeavers), as Wheeler and Crawford. This is not exactly the most complex screenplay ever filmed, but the uncertain direction of their relationship is entertaining to watch.

Of course, both McEntire and Melissa Peterman (who co-starred on McEntire’s sitcom) are as down-home as it gets as the Wheeler sisters. Director Jeff Beesley keeps it moving along, but screenwriters Sanford Golden and Karen Wyscarver badly fumble the “socially conscious” subplots, involving the Wheeler family abuse and a predatory probation official. Even though it is literally called “Reba McEntire’s the Hammer,” she neither wrote or helmed the TV feature. She just stars and executive produced. However, Lifetime clearly wants viewers to know she plays the leading role, which she does.

Even though
The Hammer is a TV movie, it still feels episodic. However, McEntire and Linn get a good rhythm going together that would translate well to weekly episodes. Only recommended for country fans, due to the inconsistent writing, Reba McEntire’s the Hammer airs tomorrow night (1/7) on Lifetime.