I didn't read the novel that "Jodi Picoult's Salem Falls" (8 tonight, Lifetime) is based upon, but I have a feeling fans of the book will be disappointed. Unless they were expecting a film that's stilted and clumsy.
Jack McBride (James Van Der Beek) is on his way out of town. A teacher and soccer coach, he got in trouble at his all-girl's school because he's cute and teen girls get crushes. Now he's out of work and a registered sex offender. An accident on the road gets him stuck in Salem Falls, where he's befriended by Addie (Sarah Carter), who is really kind, owns the local diner and has some emotional issues, plus a father who enjoys getting drunk and cutting up.
Also residing in the town is rich girl Gillian (AJ Michalka) and her two friends. The girls practice Wicca, and when Gillian spots Jack, she swears he's the one who has come to take her away to California. A little spell will help that along. But spells only work on what the heart wants and Jack doesn't want Gillian. Gillian being mean, and the daughter of the leading citizen in town, doesn't take that well, and Jack's past starts to catch up with him.
There are some interesting threads to be explored in this film. Salem obviously evokes the witch hunts and the fear stirred by the idea of sexual predators could be seen as the modern-day witch hunt. There's the idea of ghosts and the things that haunt us and how we can make the spirits go away.
But the writing here isn't skilled; it either hints at those things or bashes your head with them. And the actors can't help the script. I've always kind of like Van Der Beek, inexplicably (I think it's just because he was Dawson), but he's an inert actor. Liked him as a serial killer on "Criminal Minds"; here he's a man accused, fighting for love and life, and he seems vaguely concerned. Michalka, too, isn't up for the layers her character should show. She plays her mean and skittish when she should be troubled. Only Carter does well; her character, kind and tough and vulnerable, seems the most realistic.
I did see the big-screen adaptation of Picoult's "My Sister's Keeper," which I thought was well done. After seeing "Jodi Picoult's Salem Falls," I think she put her name above the wrong film.