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Despite laugh-out-loud moments, Drew Peterson movie not so bad

Rob Lowe tries mightily but never manages transform himself title role Lifetime’s “Drew Peterson: Untouchable” premiering Saturday.

Rob Lowe tries mightily but never manages to transform himself in the title role of Lifetime’s “Drew Peterson: Untouchable,” premiering Saturday.

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Updated: February 21, 2012 8:40AM

There’s an award-winning performance in Lifetime’s new made-for-TV movie about Drew Peterson, but it doesn’t come from the star, Rob Lowe.

The Emmy should go to the cop who managed to keep a straight face while Lowe hummed a striptease song and took off his shirt — in slow motion — before changing into his bright orange jail jumpsuit.

I’m pretty sure this slow-mo disrobing was supposed to convey a sense of eerie creepiness, as in “this guy is so unhinged from reality, he’s scary.”

Instead, this scene and a few others from “Drew Peterson: Untouchable” had me laughing out loud, which I doubt was the desired effect.

Based on the book Fatal Vows by former Joliet Herald-News reporter Joe Hosey, the movie chronicles the fall of the former Bolingbrook police sergeant accused of murdering his third wife, Kathleen Savio (Cara Buono, “Mad Men”), and named a suspect in the disappearance of his fourth, Stacy Peterson (Kaley Cuoco, “The Big Bang Theory”).

We watch Peterson’s third marriage disintegrate as he strikes up a relationship with a very young Stacy, who craves a family and security. Drew’s controlling ways eventually become too much for her, and marriage No. 4 gets sucked into the same downward spiral.

“I used to be you, and one day you’ll be me, and you’ll regret the day you ever laid eyes on Drew Peterson,” Savio says to Stacy in a prescient scene on the Petersons’ driveway.

“Drew Peterson: Untouchable” isn’t a terrible movie. But it is the victim of a bad casting decision that put Lowe in the loafers of this puffy, inexplicably cocky and occasionally charismatic cop. As fine an actor as Lowe is, he never transforms into a credible Peterson — despite doing his homework.

The film’s Danish director, Mikael Salomon, said he and Lowe “looked at hours and days of footage of Drew” and spent time with real police officers to prepare for the role. A lot of effort went into turning Hollywood’s pretty boy into the beefy blowhard who calls himself “Big Daddy” and hides a potbelly beneath his untucked Tommy Bahama shirt.

“Rob was so passionate about getting it right,” Salomon said. “We tried to help him by getting his ‘exterior’ correct by hiring some of the top makeup and prosthetic craftsmen in the film business.”

Lowe’s gray hair, mustache, perpetually squinty eyes and thick Chicago accent (at times, too thick) aren’t enough to capture the essence of Peterson. When the real-life Peterson speaks in his trademark affectless cadence, it comes off as aloof and unsettling. When Lowe does it, it sounds weak and borderline silly.

In scenes where Lowe is supposed to be intimidating and scary — like when he tells his neighbor “I’m untouchable, b----,” the only thing that’s menacing is the music.

Buono and Cuoco, on the other hand, are believable as Peterson’s beleaguered spouses and the mothers of four of his children.

It’s these women’s stories that make up the most compelling parts of “Untouchable,” not Drew and the well-publicized specifics of his case, which are especially familiar to Chicagoans. The women’s lives and their voices are what we haven’t seen and heard before. The opposite is true for Peterson, a publicity hound who’s been on seemingly every TV talk show — twice.

We’ve seen less of Peterson now that he’s in jail, awaiting trial. He insists he’s innocent, but “Untouchable” seems to make a strong argument to the contrary.

At least I thought so.

“I disagree that the movie portrays Drew as guilty,” Salomon said. “We were extremely careful [about] not being biased … Drew still has to be tried in a court of law.”

He’d better hope his prospective jurors don’t watch Lifetime.

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