‘Leverage’ cast makes crime pay


In the new series “Leverage,” premiering Sunday on TNT, Timothy Hutton plays a disaffected former insurance investigator who finds a kind of personal salvation in crossing over to the dark side -- in order to cross back to the light. See below.

Although not a remake, the series bears a distinct resemblance, both in tone and substance, to “Hustle,” the jazzy British con-artist series that ran here recently on AMC -- and which itself owed much to “Mission: Impossible,” which owed much to amalgamated 1960s caper films like “Topkapi” and “Ocean’s Eleven,” and James Bond. In all these shows a team of experts, each with a specialty, uses tricks of the criminal trade as a force more or less for good. Even when the crooks are just crooks, their targets are either too big or too bad to elicit or deserve our sympathy. Morally speaking, it’s a way to have your cake and steal it too.

Hutton’s Nathan Ford is nursing a deep wound -- the death of his son, denied medical coverage by Nathan’s former employers -- which he is treating with alcohol. He’s drinking alone in a bar one day when actor Saul Rubinek walks up and essentially pitches him the premise of the show.


Rubinek’s character, who claims that his designs for a new airplane were stolen by a rival, persuades Ford to captain a band of criminal superstars to steal them back. There is more there than meets the eye -- ours and Ford’s -- and without revealing too much about Sunday’s plot, I’ll just say that by the end our heroes are too wealthy to need crime. Unable to surrender that thrill, however, they become what might be called pro bono criminals, helping the helpless. (“Modern-day Robin Hoods” is the common phrase.)

This is about as deep as it goes, and indeed the show fails only when it wants to make you feel something warm about their mission, rather than just letting you enjoy the icy suspense and snappy dialogue. There is, of course, a lot of recycled material in this sort of thing: the crawling through air vents, the hanging on wires, the hacking into computers, the phony office, the beautiful woman vamping some middle-aged wealthy bad guy, the usual as-good-as-magic gadgets. But I am not complaining.

A show like “Leverage” needs only a few things to work. However baroque, tortuous, mechanical or unbelievable the caper, there needs to be a climactic moment when you say to yourself, “I didn’t see that coming -- cool.” There should be at least a modicum of audiovisual stylishness. (The very attractive pilot episode uses Chicago locations; the series itself will be based in L.A.) And it needs actors who know how to make a meal out of characters no deeper than a saltine.

The producers have cast well. As the dad figure, Hutton has the least responsibility for our pleasure. Funny Aldis Hodge (“Friday Night Lights”) is the computer guy -- there’s always a computer guy -- and beautiful Gina Bellman (“Coupling”) is the grifter. (The joke about her is that she’s a great actress when involved in a con and a terrible actress when trying to act.) Christian Kane (“Angel”) is good with his fists, and Beth Riesgraf is a slightly daft cat burglar. The show is not especially violent, and it remains fairly chaste. Everyone’s too busy to get busy.

I was not at all surprised to learn that creator John Rogers has a resume that includes comic books and “Cosby.” That seems just about right.




Where: TNT

When: 10 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)