Picks and Pans Review: The China Syndrome

updated 04/16/1979 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/16/1979 AT 01:00 AM EST

It begins as a routine assignment for a TV reporter (Jane Fonda) and her minicam photographer (Michael Douglas): an essay on a nuclear power facility. But as they tour the plant, a near disaster (for which the title is a code word) is barely contained by a mid-level engineer (Jack Lemmon). Corporate structures at both the power plant and the TV station scramble to cover up the incident. Then, as in the real-life case of Karen Silkwood and the Cimarron nuclear power facility in Oklahoma, which the movie loosely resembles, a courier with proof of dangerous abuses has a fatal car accident. Like all the other protagonists in the film, Fonda is so relentlessly high-minded that the movie lacks passion. The only emotion, in fact, comes from Lemmon's performance as a man in conflict. As a thriller or a treatise about man versus technology, the movie works marvelously. It is just painfully cold-blooded. While preaching about what's good for humanity in the abstract, the film lacks sensitivity to its flesh-and-blood characters. (PG)

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