Dec. 6, 2002
By ANN HODGES
Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle
Houston's own Charlie Robinson is TNT's gift to this holiday season's crop of Christmas movies.
Charlie Robinson, left, and Holliston Coleman star in TNT's Miss Lettie and Me. The top-billed stars of Miss Lettie and Me are Mary Tyler Moore and Burt Reynolds, but Robinson ought to be right up there with them. Without his all-pro charisma, Miss Lettie and Me would be just another in a long line of TV Christmas turkeys.
Miss Lettie and Me is based on a Newbery Award-winning short story, Poor Little Innocent Lamb, by Katherine Paterson. The movie comes off as a well-meaning but painfully clichéd tale of a lonely child's efforts to melt her auntie's cold, cold heart.
Moore, of course, plays Aunt Lettie, but it's not a happy casting. Her performance is as stiff and phony as the lines of this unlikely script.
Holliston Coleman (Samantha of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) is 10-year-old Travis, the little girl whose mother, Allison, has dumped her at Aunt Lettie's farm while she goes off to seek fame and fortune in Hollywood.
I did love the farm. This was filmed near Griffin, Ga., at Brookfield Plantation, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
And young Miss Coleman holds up her end, too, so don't blame her, in any way, for this film fizzling.
It's not Burt Reynolds' fault, either. He's not even in it enough to matter one way or another. He adds a small touch of charm as Miss Lettie's first love, good old Sam, who has just moved back to town after years and years of pursuing a very small success in baseball. I'm sure you'll not be surprised to hear that the rekindling of their old flame is dandy good medicine for auntie's achy-breaky heart.
Sam and Lettie broke up eons ago because she didn't have time to get married. She was too busy raising Allison after her parents were killed in an accident. But when she was 17, Allison ran off with a 25-year-old suitor that Aunt Lettie didn't even like. And they haven't seen each other since. Until Travis was due on her doorstep, Aunt Lettie didn't even know that Allison, the niece who'd been so like a daughter to her, had a daughter of her own.
Aunt Lettie has grown bitter and mean since Allison went away, and the arrival of little Travis isn't about to change that. Travis is plenty bright enough to see that her aunt doesn't want her there, and she's hurting because of it. She'd just run off, too, if it weren't for Isaiah, the indispensable caretaker of this farm where Aunt Lettie raises sheep (not for slaughter, heaven forbid, but for wool).
Isaiah -- that's Robinson -- and his mother, Mama Rose, well played by Irma P. Hall, are Travis' only friends, and the only ones who dare even try to pound a little sense into Aunt Lettie's thick head. Rock bottom, Robinson's performance is the one kernel of truth in this Christmas movie pudding.
In case you need reminding, his acting career started in Houston theater, and on his first big TV series, he played the no-nonsense clerk on the sitcom Night Court. At this stage, his credit list runs around the block -- including more than 80 plays he's acted in, and 20 that he's directed.
Miss Lettie and Me, 7 p.m. Sunday, TNT.