Picks and Pans Review: By Dawn's Early Light

updated 05/21/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/21/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

HBO (Sat., May 19, 8 P.M. ET)

B+

In a gripping fail-safe scenario, a nuclear missile explodes over a Soviet city. Assuming we are responsible, the Soviets launch four retaliatory warheads. In short order, both sides are lobbing up every thing they've got. The hawks soar here, especially Nicolas Coster as the ramrod SAC chief and Rip Torn as a nasty cold warrior. They totally overshadow Martin Landau as the President and an airborne command post honcho played by James Earl Jones.

The supposed stars of the film, Powers Boothe and Rebecca De Mornay as jet jockeys, are stranded in the cockpit of their B-52 in an awkward subplot. Once the bombs and rockets start falling, we're supposed to see them as Adam and Eve in olive drab. But even that unwieldy conceit doesn't ruin a crackling good yarn.

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