Picks and Pans Review: The Waterdance

updated 05/18/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/18/1992 01:00AM

Wesley Snipes, Eric Stoltz, Helen Hunt

Insightful where it might be glib, compassionate where it might be pitying, poignant where it might be maudlin, this portrait of a hospital ward for rehabilitating spinal-cord-injury patients is a deftly acted story of human resourcefulness.

The plot revolves around the unlikely friendship between Stoltz (Memphis Belle), a novelist injured in a fall, and Snipes (White Men Can't Jump), a stereotypical free spirit hurt in a mugging. While Stoltz tries to handle the pressures of his complex relationship with Hunt (Project X), who is both his assistant and his married lover, Snipes' marriage is falling apart. Codirectors Neal Jimenez, who wrote River's Edge, and Michael Steinberg toughen the mix by throwing in the crude William Forsythe, who is rapidly becoming the Ernest Borgnine of his generation, as an injured racist biker.

Forsythe, defiantly boorish, Snipes, taking his torment almost casually, and Stoltz, vividly portraying the frustration brought on by his newly diminished condition, are all convincing victims. Hunt's confusion complements Stoltz', and theirs is a grown-up love affair, performed and directed with an understanding of the power of affection and respect as well as of sex.

Jimenez and Steinberg (the former wrote the script) use one stagy deviceā€”an off-camera patient whose pathetic cries for help seem ostentatious. A conclusion in which one patient breaks out of the hospital seems artificial too. Otherwise, this is a worthy addition to the genre of films about profound disability that already includes The Men, Coming Home and Born on the Fourth of July. (R)

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