Picks and Pans Review: Clean and Sober

updated 08/22/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/22/1988 01:00AM

It sounds like a bad TV movie: Let's follow a cocaine addict through 21 days at a detox clinic. Sometimes it also plays like a bad TV movie: Tod Carroll's script ties up too many plot threads, as if anticipating the next commercial. But in his debut as a feature director, Glenn Gordon Caron, the creator of TV's Moonlighting, wisely detours past preachiness. Michael Keaton, following his hilarious turn in Beetlejuice, is remarkably fresh and forceful in his first dramatic role. Many comics (Robin Williams in The World According to Garp, Bill Murray in Razor's Edge) drain their acting of humor to prove they're serious. Not Keaton. As a real estate exec who has embezzled $92,000 from his company to support his habit, he exudes the seductive charm that makes a pitchman good at his job. But his addiction has also made him a lying, thieving, sniveling sleaze. At the clinic, which Keaton initially uses as a hideout, we see just how low coke has reduced him. Caron works marvels with a terrific cast, including Morgan Freeman as the former junkie who supervises Keaton's rehab and Kathy Baker (she played the prostitute to Freeman's pimp in Street Smart) as an addict attracted to Keaton. It is Baker who provides Keaton with a lifeline to the recovery she herself can't grasp. Baker's heart-piercing performance is a match for Keaton's. Their artistry makes this unsparingly powerful film impossible to shake. (R)

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