Picks and Pans Review: And the Band Played on

updated 09/13/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/13/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

HBO (Sat., Sept. 11, 8 p.m. ET)

B-

This film dramatizes gay activist Randy Shilts' 1988 nonfiction best-seller about the terrible swift advent of the AIDS epidemic. Director Roger Spottiswoode frames the story as a medical mystery with Matthew Modine as the hero, Don Francis, a dedicated researcher for the Centers for Disease Control.

There is a sterling supporting cast—Lily Tomlin, Phil Collins, Richard Gere, Glenne Headly, Alan Alda, Anjelica Huston, Steve Martin and others. But none of the dutiful guest stars are particularly effective in their roles, most of which amount to glorified cameos. They can't overcome the movie's choppy, forced-march pace and flat visual look. The exceptions are Gere in a small but touching turn as a Broadway choreographer (a composite character) and Alda as controversial Dr. Bob Gallo of the National Institutes of Health, who is presented as the villain of the piece, more interested in self-seeking than in science.

Then again, this is a complicated, diffuse and technical history to present cogently. (Screenwriter Arnold Schulman went through 18 rewrites.) The result is an important but not truly interesting project, one without an emotional center.

From Our Partners