Picks and Pans Review: Radio Flyer

updated 03/02/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/02/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

Lorraine Bracco, Elijah Wood

This movie had troubled advance word: Screenwriter David Mickey Evans was fired as the director, starring roles were recast, and production was halted until Richard (both Lethal Weapons) Donner signed on as Evans's replacement. Then the film's premiere date kept getting pushed back amid rumors of new endings.

Radio Flyer has finally opened and, sad to say, there's no big showbiz finish to this tale. A muddled mess about child abuse as seen from a child's point of view, the film goes out there an understudy and stays one, shaky both in tone and in aim.

It's 1969, and Mike and Bobby are two young brothers whose new stepfather (Adam Baldwin) regularly wallops Bobby. Their morn (Bracco) doesn't know what's going on; she's off working double shifts as a waitress, and the boys agree not to tell her because, as Bobby reasons, "She's happy now." Instead they plan Bobby's escape. They will transform his little red wagon, a Radio Flyer, into an airborne vehicle that will live up to the second half of its name and transport him beyond his stepfather's reach.

If only it were that simple. The threat of abuse is so damned real and terrifying for Bobby—this movie is way too intense for kids under 10—that the flying-machine fix smacks of Hollywood escapism at its most E.T.-ish. It doesn't wash. More to the point, sadly, is the child-abuse hotline phone number that appears on the screen before the final credits.

As Mike and Bobby, Wood (Paradise) and Joseph Mazzello are excellent. The adult actors have little to do. In an unbilled cameo, Tom Hanks turns up as the film's narrator and as an adult Mike in the clumsy book end scenes that needlessly bracket the movie. (PG-13)"

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