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THERE'S SOMETHING FAMILIAR IN CABLE ROLE OF BUFFALO ACTOR

BUFFALO ACTOR Jeff Fahey is getting typecast these days. Every time I see him in a cable movie, he plays someone who is either a psychological mess or who has homicide on his mind.

His latest venture is "Curiosity Kills," the USA Network's movie of the week that airs at 9 p.m. Wednesday on local cable systems.

I haven't been that curious about many cable movies. I did see Fahey in "Backfire," the excellent Showtime pay-cable movie in which he played a disillusioned Vietnam veteran who was being driven crazy.

But I've found the majority of cable movies to be disappointing, including this month's Showtime flick "Deceptions," which starred Harry Hamlin and his girlfriend, Nicollette Sheridan.

However, cable movies are hard to avoid these days. There is even talk of a cable movie glut now. More than 100 of them are on the drawing boards for five basic cable networks and three pay-cable networks.

Are you curious as to why?

A) Cable movies attract viewers away from the networks.

B) The cable networks are often able to keep the rights to the movies to sell internationally or in syndication.

The broadcast networks can't do that. They purchase movies from studios, which keep the rights.

A TV producer in Hollywood once told me that he wouldn't make a movie for Ted Turner's TNT network because Turner keeps the video rights after it airs.

The broadcast networks don't think this is fair and are asking for Federal Communications Commission relief. But that is another story.

Back to "Curiosity Kills," which is a decent movie for a slow summer evening. It is enlivened by a musical score from Jan Hammer of "Miami Vice" fame.

Fahey, whose credits include TV's "The Execution of Raymond Graham" and "Psycho III," actually is the fourth-billed actor in this suspense drama.

C. Thomas Howell ("The Outsiders," "Secret Admirer") and his wife, Rae Dawn Chong ("Quest for Fire," "The Color Purple"), get the main billing. I sense a romantic trend in cable. It could be billed as the place where couples go to make movies.

Howell and Chong met during the filming of "Soul Man," the movie in which he played a teen-ager who pretended to be black in order to be accepted at Harvard.

The daughter of comedian Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong, Chong is a very understanding woman. Howell's love interest in "Curiosity" is Courteney Cox, the "Family Ties" actress with looks that could kill. She was discovered in Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" video.

Howell plays Cat Thomas, a struggling photographer who is making ends meet by managing his apartment building, collecting rent and killing rats that hide in the narrow vents above a loft. Howell wears a distracting goatee, which is either to give him an artsy look or to distinguish him further from Fahey's looks.

Chong is Cat's neighbor Jane, a sculptor who lives down the hall. Cox is his girlfriend, Gwen, a sexy magazine model who wants him to move to the high-rent district.

"You are not hopelessly compromised if you make some money, Cat," explains Gwen. "It's the real world."

After Cat's neighbor and friend, an artist named Harry (Larry Dobkin), apparently commits suicide, Fahey arrives as the new tenant, Michael Manus. Manus says he is an actor, but Cat smells another rat.

"He seems kind of strange doesn't he?" asks Jane.

"Yeah, he's an actor," replies Cat.

While looking for rats in a crawl space, Cat overhears an answering machine message congratulating Manus for getting the desired apartment. This makes Cat wonder why the apartment is so important. He shares his suspicions with Gwen. When she is the model of uninterest, he turns to Jane to investigate.

The dialogue in the movie is weak. At one point, a villain tells Cat: "That (his name) means you have nine lives. Too bad it ain't 10."

There also are implausible elements in the plot. For instance, Cat sneaks out on Gwen in the middle of the night to meet Jane for their surveillance of Manus.

It is hard to believe Cat could believe he can get away with acting like such a dog. It is just as hard to understand why Cat and Jane believe two artists could solve the case.

Despite the plot holes, the last half-hour of the movie is suspenseful, thanks largely to Fahey's mysterious eyes and ways.

Even as the movie drags at the start and in the middle, you may find yourself getting curious about what Manus is up to.

The ending won't disappoint you, although there is an unnecessary scene tacked on, apparently to remind us that Howell and Chong are married.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5.

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