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TNT's "high-octane" Leverage not quite a gas, gas, gas

Timothy Hutton leads his merry band of robbin' hoods.

Premiering: Sunday, Dec. 7th at 9 p.m. (central) before moving to regular Tuesday, 9 p.m. slot on Dec. 9th
Starring: Timothy Hutton, Beth Riesgraf, Christian Kane, Aldis Hodge, Gina Bellman
Produced by: Dean Devlin, John Rogers, Chris Downey

Don't believe any of this for a second. That might optimize your enjoyment of TNT's new Leverage, which in longer form is The A-Team meets Mission: Impossible meets Ocean's Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen or how many more of 'em they make.

Timothy Hutton, a best supporting actor Oscar-winner at 21 for 1981's Ordinary People, is now the elder statesman maestro of four attitude-infested wrongdoers who say things like, "My money's not in my account. That makes me cry inside my special anger place."

That's a bit more elegant than "I pity the fool." But you'll get the drift -- and the grift. The far-fetched capers pulled off by this oddball quintet require everything falling into the right place in ways that make anything but any sense. So perhaps you might find yourself sighing inside your special what-a-crock place.

It's OK. Because surely they can't expect you to buy into a scene -- in Tuesday's second episode -- that finds a prototypically crooked congressman caught red-handed by a gaggle of mike-wielding TV news types led by a CNN correspondent.

"How long have you been involved in this smuggling?" the CNN news woman demands.

"Oh crap," says the congressman.

Then another reporter leans into her cell phone to tell a producer back home, "We're gonna lead with crap."

Actually, that last part is pretty believable. But don't hold that against Leverage, which tries its level best to be totally preposterous. In that context it can be passably entertaining.

Hutton plays the semi-dissipated Nathan Ford, a former insurance investigator whose efforts yielded millions for his previous employer. But then that same employer for some reason let Ford's young son die after denying his medical insurance claims.

A thus embittered Ford has dedicated himself to a life of brooding and boozing until an aeronautics exec persuades him in Sunday's premiere to recover plane designs that supposedly were stolen by a rival company. But Ford needs more horsepower. So he quickly puts together a team of specialists, all of whom have been happily conning and robbing people on their own. Let's meet 'em:

Eliot Spencer (Dallas native Christian Kane) is a "retrieval specialist" who can whip a gang of henchmen with his bare hands whenever necessary.

Single-named Parker (Beth Riesgraf) is a Looney Tuner who's also incredibly agile and especially good at rappelling for no really good reason other than to create an action visual.

Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge) is a technology whiz mastering in computer fraud and chip-on-the-shoulder quips.

And Sophie Deveraux (Gina Bellman) is a grifter who speaks six languages and is, in Ford's words, "the finest actress you've ever seen -- when she's breaking the law."

They of course agree to team up just this once. But gee, working together was lots cooler than everyone thought. And by Episode 2, Ford has designed a super-duper HQ for his team, which then sets out to undermine a despicable Iraqi war contracting firm whose illegal profiteering stops at nothing. That includes the attempted murder of a U.S. soldier who's now stuck in rehab at a hospital whose money is running out.

Cardboard crooks and implausible schemes abound before justice is done and Ford says needlessly, "Anybody who wants to walk away can do it right now."

Leverage is likely to have a hop in its step after Sunday night's Nielsen ratings come out. That's because its warmup act is TNT's The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice, latest in the popular fantasy-action series of movies starring Noah Wyle of ER fame as mild-mannered bookworm Flynn Carsen.

Leverage and Librarian are from the same producer, Dean Devlin. So he stands to win big twice without taxing anyone's brain circuitry. Maybe that's genius.