Brenda’s misdeeds are rolled out slowly — the story grotesquely unfolds like a rotting tulip — and in ever-increasing degrees of improbability. (Incidentally, CBS touts the movie’s true-story bona fides — otherwise, it would be, you know, completely implausible — but coyly declines to name names.)
We watch as Brenda instructs her children and foster children in shoplifting and fraud, but it’s not until after her arrest that we learn that, when not burglarizing her tenants’ apartments and setting them on fire, Brenda enjoys torturing her sons-in-law, threatening her maintenance lady and keeping a former deadbeat tenant locked up in her basement for 18 years with little to eat.
The basement-dweller is Nadine (Kathleen Wilhoite), who signs over her daughter Marie (Deanna Milligan) to Brenda in exchange for dessert. Brenda’s husband, Ken (Kevin McNulty), natch, molests them both. Son Joey (David Richmond-Peck) sticks to Marie.
Eventually, Marie manages to run away with her small son and lay the suburban gothic horror story on the local authorities; but neither the police, nor the Justice Department, nor child services believe her. (Her hair is just too stringy.)
When she manages to spark the interest of a local newsman, however, all that changes. The brilliant D.A. Phillip Rothman (Will Patton) springs into action, and Marie finally succeeds in dragging her addled mother out of the basement and the Gecks into court.
Family Sins, in other words, is a story of faith and redemption and believing in yourself and weirdos and the incalculable value of some well-timed publicity. But what really counts is that it’s the most sensationalistic schlock-athon starring Kirstie Alley you’re likely to catch tonight, and is best enjoyed with something cheesy.