Picks and Pans Review: Barbarians at the Gate

updated 03/22/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/22/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

HBO (Sat., March 20, 8 p.m. ET)

B-

In 1988, F. Ross Johnson, then CEO of RJR Nabisco, tendered a management-led buyout offer for his food and tobacco conglomerate. That setoff a fantastic, frenzied bidding war on Wall Street, the story of which was told in wonderful detail by Bryan Bur-rough and John Helyar in their best-selling book, Barbarians at the Gate. Eventually financial titan Henry Kravis walked away with the company for the staggering sum of $25 billion.

James Garner stars as Johnson in this drab dramatization of that high-stakes corporate shoot-out. Larry Gelbart's streamlined script settles for a toothless indictment of boardroom hubris in the go-go '80s. The centerpiece brings all the principals to do-si-do together in Western garb at a costume fund-raiser. Like all the film's stabs at farce, the scene is labored.

Garner is miscast as Johnson, underselling him as a foulmouthed, one-dimensional opportunist concerned only with holding on to the lavish perks of his office. (Physically and temperamentally, the role of Johnson would have been perfect for Walking Tail's Joe Don Baker.) Jonathan Pryce is excellent as the gimlet-eyed raptor Kravis. Fred Dalton Thompson, Peter Riegert, Joanna Cassidy and Matt Clark costar.

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