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Jan. 7, 2003, 11:20AM
'Crooked E' scores direct hit in local ratings battle

Despite mixed reviews, The Crooked E: The Unshredded Truth About Enron made out like a bandit Sunday night.

The CBS movie about the Enron scandal was Sunday's most-watched program in Houston from 8 to 10 p.m. Nationally, the movie finished No. 2 during its time period.

In Houston, The Crooked E attracted a 14.8 rating and 21 share for KHOU (Channel 11), meaning that nearly 15 percent of Houston homes with television watched the movie, or 21 percent of the local population who had their televisions on.

Its closest competition was on Fox's KRIV (Channel 26), whose 8-10 p.m. lineup of Malcolm in the Middle, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, news and sports averaged an 8.3 rating and 10 share. ABC's tandem of Alias and The Practice was right behind, averaging an 8.2 rating and 11 share for KTRK (Channel 13). On NBC's KPRC (Channel 2), Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Boomtown managed a 5.9 rating and 8 share.

Nationally, NBC won the night with a 9.2 preliminary rating and 13 share. The Crooked E took second with an 8.5 rating and 12 share. Fox was No. 3 from 8 to 9 p.m., while ABC's The Practice was No. 3 from 9 to 10 p.m.

National TV critics praised the idea of the movie, while offering less acclaim to the finished product.

Tom Shales of the Washington Post expressed amazement that a major network tackled the subject of a "massive, monstrous case of corporate corruption," because it's "the kind of topic that conglomerate-owned networks normally avoid."

Shales added, "Though hardly brilliant or inordinately clever, the script brings us face to face with the cold dark heart of the story: wanton, heedless greed."

Los Angeles Times staff writer John Friedman wrote that a measure of good has come from the Enron collapse with "two hours of wry, cautionary entertainment in the form of The Crooked E."

"Regardless of whether it captures the unshredded truth of the Enron saga in a literal sense, (director Penelope) Spheeris shows a knack for finding a bizarre culture's absurd essence," Friedman wrote.

Patricia Pearson of Canada's National Post wrote that Crooked E "is a cheap quickie of a movie, but in that sense it is nicely illustrative of the wider issues" of the Enron scandal.

Dallas Morning News critic Olin Chism also had mixed feelings.

"It might be hard to imagine caricaturing the Enron scandal -- the ill-doing was so grotesque to start with -- but CBS has managed to turn the trick," he wrote. Yet he found it "grandly entertaining as a moral fable with many hissable villains."

Amy Amatangelo of the Boston Herald certainly wasn't on the fence about the movie.

"Surely, this isn't the most interesting story the walls of Enron have to tell," she wrote.

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