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Even Basinger's hair can't save 'Chair'

In Lifetime's ``The Mermaid Chair," midlife crisis never seemed so ``Thorn Birds." Instead of buying a nice little red corvette, Jessie Sullivan goes and gets herself a nice hot Benedictine monk-in-training. And this particular man of God comes fully equipped with a pair of smoldering eyes, not to mention a robe of many muscles.

Look people, Jessie's tormented mother is cutting off her own fingers, her husband is nice but boring, and her daughter has gone to college. She's at a crossroads and losing her passion for life. Brother Thomas offers her a healing balm, a sweet taste of cosmic mystery, a spiritual, artistic, and, yes, erotic reawakening.

Oh Brother Thomas!

More like: Oh brother. ``The Mermaid Chair," which premieres tonight at 9 on Lifetime, is an irritating piece of nonsense about finding oneself through narcissism. Based on Sue Monk Kidd's novel, the movie blends the worst kind of Lifetime sincerity about becoming a satisfied woman with hokey psycho-religious symbolism, including the mermaids we see swimming periodically throughout the film. It's a silly story dressed in gauzy island scenery and aided and abetted by a moody soundtrack that rubs your nose in emotion.

Essentially, the movie is a vehicle for Kim Basinger, who plays Jessie as a series of blowsy, expressive hairstyles. In one scene, as Jessie stands on a lawn filled with monks weaving nets, her wind blown hair practically screams, ``Take me now!" At other points, her teased frizz simply states, ``I need to get out of this marriage" and ``My mother is crazy." Within her blond mane, however, Basinger's face remains so impassive that her Jessie doesn't seem to change much from start to finish.

Jessie's plot arc -- excuse me, her voyage to selfhood -- begins when she returns to her island hometown in South Carolina, to be near her mentally troubled mother (Roberta Maxwell). While her mother stubbornly resists help, Jessie doesn't resist her flirtation with Brother Thomas (Alex Carter), and they begin dodging suspicious eyes on a private beach. Soon enough, Jessie is telling her psychiatrist husband (Bruce Greenwood) on the mainland that she needs time apart. Of course she doesn't tell him that our mermaid has a merman on the side.

Meanwhile, the deeper cause of Jessie's unhappiness emerges slowly, as she learns the truth about the death of her father many years ago. And that long-secret truth is also closely connected to her mother's unhappiness. Turns out Mom is not crazy after all; she has been cutting off her fingers for a good reason.

And what of Brother Thomas? Alas, the Lifetime movie doesn't have much to say on the matter. Used and discarded, he's just another boy toy on his own voyage to selfhood.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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