Picks and Pans Review: Amazing Grace and Chuck

updated 06/08/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/08/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

In its many moments of horrendous naïveté and egregious sentimentality, this antiwar fable seems like the Love Story of nuclear politics: Love means never having to say you blew the world to pieces. The premise is the very definition of wishful thinking. A 12-year-old Montana boy, terrified by what he sees during a tour of a missile silo, decides to stop playing baseball until nuclear weapons have been eliminated. That inspires a pro basketball star to copy him, which sets off a chain reaction among athletes and then children all over the world. Preposterous? Yes. And yet this is a touching, winning film that finally makes its stubborn innocence seem as much genius as folly. This success is largely due to an astonishingly good cast. There are affecting scenes between somber Joshua Zuehike, 12, as the boy and William L. (Manhunter) Petersen as his father, an Air Force Reserve fighter pilot who is torn between love for his son and fear that all his beliefs are under attack. Gregory Peck, as President of the U.S., masterfully creates a complex character. Jamie Lee Curtis plays the basketball player's financial manager with a bright, wisecracking manner that relieves a lot of the movie's self-importance. Most impressive is NBA star Alex English, who plays Amazing Grace Smith, the thoughtful jock who follows in Zuehlke's footsteps because he too is desperate to do something—anything—about a seemingly hopeless problem. Pro basketball's 1983 scoring champion (and a published poet), the 6-foot, 7-inch English displays an exacting combination of strength and gentleness, and his performance would be a triumph for a seasoned actor. The cast and director Mike (Dance With a Stranger) Newell had to be near perfect, because the script by producer David Field seems desperate. A subplot, for instance, brings in a sinister character who sounds like a reject James Bond villain to try to stop the antiwar movement. The lines are not only of the "But wouldn't it be nice..." school, they actually include that phrase. The ending is both corny and foolish. Crackpot stuff, this. But there are worse ways to go crackpot than by calling attention to the implications of nuclear weapons. (PG)

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