Picks and Pans Review: Firstborn

updated 11/19/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/19/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

There's a new kid in town, and somebody ought to tell him to go away. He has many faces—Henry Thomas' in Cloak & Dagger, Ralph Macchio's in Teachers and newcomer Christopher Collet's in Firstborn. But he is always the archangel of adolescence who alone can bring insensitive grownups to their senses. This is an era of pandering to teenage audiences, but this characterization may be the most odious yet: It reduces all adults to idiots. In Firstborn, which aspires to Judy Blume meets John Updike, Collet is essentially St. Teen of the Suburbs. His recently divorced mother, Teri Garr, gets involved with an intimidating loser, Peter Weller, who moves in with Garr and her two sons. The creep has grand dreams and lousy schemes, including a cocaine deal that Garr finances after she comes under his influence (and that of his cache in the closet). Screenwriter Ron Koslow writes some TV-snappy exchanges, but this drama is afflicted with a recycled-movie mentality and self-righteous morality. Essentially the villain serves the same purpose as the beast-in-the-basement monster of horror films: He exists primarily to threaten the household back into family togetherness. Director Michael Apted, who proved himself an ace on atmosphere with Agatha and Coal Miner's Daughter, goes astray in the suburbs. The details are either implausible or distorted. Collet's high school fields what looks like the world's largest lacrosse team, for instance. And we never learn what Garr does for a living—if anything. She's defined entirely in terms of her outdoor activities—she does more gardening than a royal grounds keeper. As always, Garr is a great asset. Her wounded-puppy face evokes instant empathy from an audience. She adds some shades of gray to this black-and-white, heroes-and-villains script. But there's no electricity between her and Weller, who does the same second-rate Christopher Walken impersonation he showed in Shoot the Moon. He confuses preening with acting. Though Collet is likable, his performance mainly consists of more pained looks per minute than you get in an aspirin commercial. Firstborn has the synthetic pathos of a sympathy card. (PG)

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