Dostoevsky, a touch of Columbo

Times Staff Writer

Aficionados of classic literature and fans of classic TV can sit side by side over the next two nights as the Bravo channel unspools a four-hour miniseries based on the Fyodor Dostoevsky novel "Crime and Punishment." The rich, atmospheric production of the Russian drama, filmed on location in St. Petersburg, opens tonight at 8, with the closing chapter showing Wednesday, also at 8.

The story of poverty-stricken young Raskolnikov and the desperate act of murder that haunts him into madness features a slyly efficient police investigator who will strike a familiar chord with folks who may have missed the renowned source material but never missed an episode of "Columbo."

The Peter Falk series was allegedly based on the character of Porfiry, and the Bravo miniseries unfolds in classic "Columbo" fashion, with the crime and the criminal plainly identified up front, leaving the investigator, played superbly by Ian McDiarmid ("Sleepy Hollow," "Star Wars"), to toy with his prey (John Simm of "Never Never," "Human Traffic") like a cat cornering a mouse.

The production notes tout the "modern edge" and "sexy young cast" of "Crime and Punishment," but the film simply does too good a job in re-creating the filthy squalor of this period piece for either claim to be taken too seriously.

The characters wander through streets swarming with tubercular peasants in sagging rags, their faces all but obscured by greasy tendrils of hair. Yet the stylish direction by Julian Jarrold will help you resist the urge for a hot shower as Raskolnikov wrestles with his fevered conscience, parries with the pursuing investigator and warms to a prostitute (Lara Belmont, "The War Zone").

Can our hygiene-challenged protagonist still win in the end? Well, as Lt. Columbo might say, grime doesn't pay.

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