Picks and Pans Review: Losing Isaiah

updated 03/27/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/27/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

Jessica Lange, Halle Berry, David Strathairn

This laborious chronicle of a child-custody battle begins with a crack-addicted infant being left in a Chicago projects dumpster by his mother (Berry), who then goes off to buy drugs. Discovered by sanitation workers, the baby is brought to the hospital, where his tenacity profoundly moves a social worker (Lange). With barely a word of caution or protest from her husband (Strathairn), Lange, the mother of an adolescent (Daisy Eagan), decides to adopt the foundling (played as a 4-year-old by Marc John Jefferies).

After Berry has successfully gone through drug rehab and learns that her son is alive and living in the suburbs with his adopted family, she is galvanized to win him back. Lange is just as fiercely determined to keep him.

As all the media attention about Baby Jessica demonstrated, the issue of birth mother vs. adoptive mother is explosive and polarizing. That in the case of Losing Isaiah it's a black birth mother vs. a white adoptive mother should render matters that much more incendiary. But this turgid, flat-footed movie insists on having things both ways. First, it appears to say that a biological mother, however horrific her past acts, has the right to her child. Then, shifting seismically, the film suggests that the child belongs with the woman who saved and raised him, the only woman he has ever called Mommy.

Lange and Berry play their roles with admirable fervor; Samuel L. Jackson, as Berry's lawyer, and Cuba Gooding Jr., as her persistent suitor, add heft to the production. But Losing Isaiah never manages to find itself. (R)

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