With Michael Jackson’s molestation case still making headlines, VH1 has seized on the opportunity to roll out a little Jacko propaganda with its very own made-for-TV acquittal (otherwise known as an original biopic).
“Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story” is a sympathetic look at the world’s favorite dysfunctional man-child, a hip-hoppy, choppy, semi-documentary examination of Jackson’s life and career that is redeemed somewhat by an affecting and believable performance from Flex Alexander (UPN’s “One on One”) in the lead.
The producers obviously feel that the pop icon has gotten a raw deal in the media — with too much attention focused on his weirdness, his skin tone, his pet chimps, his baby dangling and his kid obsession. So this flick is obviously meant to set the record straight by looking first and foremost at Jackson’s talent and artistry. Unfortunately, fully appreciating this treatment of Jackson’s story requires us to climb into a time machine and forget everything we know about what the guy has become. That the movie comes out squarely on his side in issues involving alleged criminal conduct at his Neverland Ranch is admirable for those who support Jackson, but it’s not a balanced view. Jackson himself could hardly have produced a glossier profile.
This does not mean that “Man in the Mirror” is without merit. It makes for a reasonably entertaining biography that effectively re-creates the excitement of Jackson’s electric stage persona, for one thing. Director Allan Moyle does an admirable job in transforming Alexander into the real deal, recalling the charisma and the gentle innocence that once defined Jackson. Claudia Salter’s teleplay covers most of the chronological bases of his life from childhood onward, but it more hints at key points (like his combative relationship with domineering father Joe Jackson, played by Fred Tucker) than fleshes them out. And it studiously soft-peddles most instances of Jackson’s bizarre behavior and famed eccentricity.
One of the film’s weaknesses is its insistence on trying to bite off more material than it can adequately chew. This is particularly true early on when maybe 10 minutes is devoted to Jackson’s formative and decisive years as the prepubescent lead singer and superstar of the Jackson 5. It’s tossed off as an almost insignificant part of the Jackson saga. Moreover, too many superimposed information nuggets (“Michael was raised a devout Jehovah’s Witness”) are flashed onscreen at too many junctures, a lazy storytelling device.
We see Michael clashing with his manager Ziggy (Peter Onorati), bonding with his bodyguard and confidant Bobby (Eugene Clark), meeting and marrying Lisa Marie Presley (Krista Rae), meeting and ultimately marrying Debbie Rowe (April Amber Telek) and enduring a variety of fiascoes from the Pepsi commercial burning accident to his first molestation crisis in the early 1990s involving what is shown to be an opportunistic father and his 12-year-old son. At every point in the story, Jackson is cast as the naive victim, a fragile flower ill-equipped emotionally to handle any rainstorm. But nothing even hinting at inappropriate or abusive conduct on his part is offered up here.
“Man in the Mirror” takes us clear through the present and Jackson’s current legal predicament. But it leaves no doubt as to where its sentiments lay. And in sacrificing objectivity for unconditional love, the truth is left dangling more elusively than ever.
“Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story” airs Friday, August 6 on VH1 from 9-11 p.m. ET.