CTV drops the ball

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:58 AM ET

This is a tightrope for a TV critic to walk.

In finding fault with The Man Who Lost Himself, it must be stressed that fault is not being found with the actual subject of the story.

Terry Evanshen is a Canadian Football League legend whose memory was washed away when he was involved in a horrific car accident in 1988. The Man Who Lost Himself, an original CTV made-for-television movie (tonight, 8 p.m.), tells the tale of Evanshen's painful recovery.

By an accident of timing, it comes close on the heels of Waking Up Wally, which aired on CBC just last week. That biopic was about Walter Gretzky, whose memory was severely impacted when he suffered a brain aneurysm in 1991.

So who wins in this unofficial sports showdown?

Well, Wally gets the nod. And hey, when you find yourself longing for the smooth touch of a typical CBC drama, that ought to tell you all you need to know.

This generally is not the fault of the two main actors in The Man Who Lost Himself. Evanshen is played ably by Toronto-born David James Elliott, best known for his decade on JAG. Hamilton native Wendy Crewson does the best she can with the role of Terry's wife Lorraine.

Elliott said in a recent interview with the Toronto Sun that he really liked the script for The Man Who Lost Himself. But something clearly must have gone askew during the process.

A particularly awkward early scene has Lorraine being told by a nurse that the chances of Terry coming out of his coma are "unlikely." Lorraine snaps, "Everything about the guy is unlikely." She then goes on to recite Terry's romantic and professional resume, essentially line by line.

That's not exactly the most unobtrusive way to work in the details of Terry's career, is it? And to make matters worse, Lorraine gets a couple of those details wrong.

After Terry spends some disastrous time at home, it is decided he should go to a clinic for an unspecified period of time. Mere seconds after he leaves, his wife and three daughters (played by Katie Boland, Tatum Knight and Clare Stone) engage in a crazy dance session that makes zero sense.

If something like that happened in real life, fair enough. But even so, the movie does a poor job of setting it up. It hits the viewer like a bolt of lightning, and an insensitive one at that.

Terry later is approached by longtime CFL executive J.I. Albrecht (played in cartoonishly over-the-top fashion by John Bourgeois) to participate in a CFL oldtimers game. Lorraine -- who has gone from blindly supportive to blindly unsupportive -- is against it. But Terry wants to try.

Fast-forward to the game. The ball is thrown to Terry twice. He drops it twice. Cut to J.I. on the sidelines. He's angry. Angry!

Did the people who made this film have no concept of the difference between a real game and an alumni game? Would anyone actually be mad at Terry Evanshen -- whose condition was no secret -- for dropping a football?

Not to fear, though. Terry buckles down and scores a touchdown ... wait for it ... on the very next play.

Not every scene is that cringe-inducing.

But after everything the real Terry Evanshen has gone through, the movie about his life should have been as gracefully impactful as he was on the field.


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