Picks and Pans Review: American Anthem

updated 07/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

There hasn't been this much raw energy in a film since Rocky. On the other hand all that kinetic force is totally unfocused, leaving a pastiche of undirected elements that never forms a convincing whole. Olympic gold medal gymnast Mitch Gaylord debuts as a smalltown boy who forsakes a college football scholarship to make motorcycles, though his real love is (surprise!) gymnastics. Lucky thing his Arizona town is big enough for a cycle shop and a championship-level gymnastics training center, complete with a Russian coach. His home life is a poor man's Great Santini, as he watches his family fall apart in between feuds with his unemployed father, TV actor John Aprea. His mother, played by ex-"Mama" Michelle Phillips, says such things as, "You've gotta pull it together now, Steve. Pull it together for yourself." But the film isn't just about Gaylord. There's Janet (A Chorus Line) Jones as an imported New York gymnast who can't cope with the strictures of training for the Big Meet. There are a couple of teammates (Stacey Maloney and Maria Anz) who get nary a glance until the finale. Gaylord doesn't sound half as intense as he looks—and that's the problem with the film. It tries so hard to distance itself from the teen shlock genre, it ends up confused. Motivation is only hinted at. And we never really learn what's inside the film's most intriguing character (played with zest by Andrew White), Jones's angst-filled cousin, who turned to composing music following the auto accident that killed his parents and left him handicapped. Director Albert (Purple Rain) Magnoli incorporates a pop sound track and uses some slick gymnastics scenes well. He also takes on too much in what amounts to an underdeveloped statement on the pressures of small-town life. It's like trying to master the parallel bars, rings and side horse before learning to stretch. (PG-13)

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