Picks and Pans Review: Ge Theater: to Heal a Nation

updated 05/30/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/30/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

NBC (Sun., May 29, 9 p.m. ET)

F

It's not surprising that NBC would revive the old GE Theater. General Electric now owns NBC. No, what is newsworthy is that GE apparently wants to be more than a corporate parent. GE wants to be the whole country's parent, at once a big, strong daddy and a sweet, tender mommy who can kiss and cure any little boo-boo—even when that boo-boo is the Vietnam War. Such is the level of insulting and simplistic condescension to which we are subjected by To Heal a Nation. The movie is based on Jan Scruggs's efforts to build a memorial to soldiers killed in Vietnam (see story, page 85). But the saga has been sanitized for our protection, purged of the blood, sweat and bile the war brought out. This movie resembles nothing in real life. Eric (Star 80) Roberts plays Scruggs in what looks, at first, like Mr. Rambo Goes to Washington. He's a tough guy who growls at government bureaucrats, but inside he's warm and decent. He cares, dammit. Next, as Scruggs teams up with vets, pols and real people, the movie takes on the appearance of an old Mickey Rooney feature—"Hey, kids, let's build a memorial!" Or as Roberts grunts: "Remember, guys, this is the homecoming we promised the vets!" Soon enough, Washington starts to resemble Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, with enemies embracing and all our old war wounds healed. And in the end the movie looks like nothing more than a TV station's late-night sign-off, with all the sentiment but none of the lyricism of "The Star-Spangled Banner." "I really opposed the war, bitterly," a child of the '60s says. Roberts looks up with all the sincerity of Rambo or Rogers or Rooney and replies: "Well, it's way too late for either of us to argue about it now, isn't it?" Wrong. The arguments are far from over. But I don't mean to jump start those battles now or to attack Scruggs and his memorial. No, I mean only to attack this movie. For these are stone cold statues, not human beings, and the words they speak do not come from a screenwriter but from a speech writer. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial itself tells its story more powerfully and eloquently than this movie dares to.

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