Fox's latest TV movie takes place in the same stylistic neighborhood as the network's hit series Beverly Hills 90210 a world of gorgeous California-bred bodies, perfect tans, and young angst. But Dead Silence is both more serious and less substantial than an average episode of 90210; a title closer to its grim yet glossy spirit might be something like ''Spring Break Party Weekend of Death.''
Fresh out of college, three best friends head for a night of Palm Springs revelry that quickly goes bad. Zanna (Renee Estevez) aspires to law school, Sunnie (Carrie Mitchum) has already landed a job as a fledgling local news reporter, and Joanie (Lisanne Falk), a party girl with the apparent brain power of a honeydew melon, is along for the ride. All three women are drunk when their car hits a passing vagrant on an empty stretch of highway. ''Breathe, damn you, breathe!'' shrieks Sunnie, who has obviously seen too many TV movies like this one. When the injured man dies, the three women discuss their options (''Do you guys wanna go to prison?'' asks Zanna). Quickly they drag his body off the road and enter a conspiracy of silence.
Inevitably, the truth will out, and lifelong friendships will unravel as the murder gets closer to detection. (These ladies aren't exactly masterminds: One of them leaves her credit card at the scene of the crime.) The story picks up momentum as it continues, but Dead Silence would generate more sympathy for its characters if they weren't such lemmings and generate more suspense if J. David Miles' teleplay didn't telegraph each woman's personality so explicitly. Dead Silence's ending is harsh and exciting enough to make up for some, but not all, of the silliness and inconsistency that precedes it. C