Picks and Pans Review: Courage Mountain

updated 03/05/1990 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/05/1990 01:00AM

Juliette Caton, Charlie Sheen

Although it may not be enough to get Heidi back in the good graces of those football fans who remember her barging into the famous Jets-Raiders TV game in 1968, this is an appealing diversion for children—especially little girls.

Extrapolated by Weaver Webb from the 1880 Johanna Spyri novel that gave Heidi her start, and with TV veteran Christopher (Beauty and the Beast) Leitch directing, this tale takes her from her grandfather's chalet in the Swiss Alps to a girls' school in northern Italy. It is 1915, though, and World War I has started. So there's a war to consider, not to mention a fiendish man and woman who run an orphanage where Heidi ends up.

So all right, it's not the most original plot twist of all time. But Heidi's escape from the orphanage with four other girls sets up the rooting interest—can the little ladies make it over the Alps to home, with the villain chasing them?

Caton, a 14-year-old English girl who played the alluring angel in The Last Temptation of Christ, is an uncommonly mature young actress, never merely cute, always sharp and spirited.

It's pure pleasure to see the incomparably expressive Leslie Caron, as the sympathetic headmistress of the girls' school, liberated from her recent servitude in such TV series as The Love Boat and Falcon Crest. Czech actor Jan Rubes makes for a sturdy, fairy-taleish grandfather. And the girls who join Heidi on the lam—Joanna Clarke, Nicola Stapleton, Kathryn Ludlow and Jade Magri—are impressive too.

Sheen is another story. He plays Heidi's mountain friend Peter, who goes off to join the Swiss Army and ends up skiing his way to the rescue during the girls' flight. For one thing, Sheen seems about as Swiss as the Brooklyn Bridge. For another, at 24, he is playing an 18-year-old, and his love scenes with little Heidi, tentative though they are, smack a bit of pedophilia. (Caton has the same sort of odd strapped-down chest that Judy Garland had in The Wizard of Oz. In any case, the character is played as a total innocent, not at all the sort to be hanging out with the local hotshots.)

Sheen's presence seems due to the fact that his Wall Street co-star Michael Douglas helped cast the film. (Douglas's brother Joel is executive producer in this, their fifth collaboration.) It's a bizarre choice anyway, but the younger lasses in the audience probably won't care.

Heidi and her pals make it over the mountain. The violence is distant and bloodless. The kids get to fret and rejoice en masse and then go home happy. There are worse ways to spend an hour and a half. (G)

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