Joseph Mazzello, Brad Renfro, Annabella Sciorra, Diana Scarwid
Leave those hankies in the drawer! While this is a movie about an 11-year-old boy with AIDS, it is surprisingly unsentimental. Writer Robert Kuhn and director Peter Horton (a thirtysomething alum) coax a few tears, but they don't jerk any. And an abrupt ending preempts what might have been an agonizing hospital-room conclusion.
Mazzello is a junior-high school student who has contracted HIV through a transfusion. He and his loving, single mom, Sciorra, have just moved in next door to Renfro and his insensitive-as-a-brick single mom, Scarwid, in the placid town of Stillwater, Minn.
The gifted Renfro, who made his debut in The Client, skillfully evokes an adolescent's difficulty in befriending an outcast (the other kids yell "Fag!" whenever they see Mazzello). Gradually, though, the boys become close—much too close for Scarwid's small-minded comfort. (Kuhn and Horton deftly sketch their growing friendship, avoiding any hint of homosexuality.)
Eventually the pair start a raft trip down the Mississippi to New Orleans, where (they have read in a tabloid) a doctor has developed a cure for AIDS. En route they encounter enough adventures to reinforce the obvious parallels to Huckleberry Finn.
Kuhn is too corny to be a threat to Mark Twain, but the rapport between Sciorra and Mazzello, as well as the convincing friendship between Mazzello and Renfro and the foolproof premise of a doomed child make this a moving, admirably unhysterical drama. (PG-13)