'From the Heart' a fine love story

MEDIA MONITOR

August 19, 1991|By Steve McKerrow

Cable viewers, do yourself a favor tonight and catch the new TNT movie "Crazy From the Heart" (premiering at 8 p.m., then repeated at 10 p.m., midnight and 2 a.m. on the basic service). It'll capture your heart.

Starring Christine Lahti and Ruben Blades, the movie completely fulfills the foreshadowing of one of its characters in an early scene when she observes, "who says there are no more great romances?"

Oddly, although it is set in a small town in Texas, the movie is more than a little reminiscent in tone and theme of the 1987 theatrical charmer "Moonstruck." But there's nothing wrong with that.

Here, Lahti plays almost-prim high school principal Charlotte Bain, who lives with her mother (the droll Louise Latham) and is hitting a mid-life turning point. Although she is keeping steady, dull time with the school's stupefyingly thick coach, Dewey (played nicely by William Russ), the discovery that her best friend from grade school is about to become a grandmother forces her to confront her future.

"What am I doing? What am I?" she asks of Dewey, in hopes of winning a marriage commitment.

"You want to be a grandmother?" he asks, bewildered. Then he adds, as if a light bulb has gone on, "this is that p---- and moan thing, isn't it, that PMS?"

Then she meets Ernesto Ontiveros (Blades), hired as the school's replacement janitor. A widower, he's trying to make ends meet to save the ranch where he lives with his father. The older man (played with delightful believability by Tommy Muniz) spends his evenings torching billboards that present Hispanics unflatteringly, in beer-guzzling or cigarette-smoking advertisements.

It does not take ESP to see where things are headed, as Blades gently but doggedly pursues his attraction to his boss. But Charlotte's fearful reluctance to let go of her expectation-bound life, and her eventual joyful embrace of a whole world of new possibility, is nicely played.

For a time, the movie leans toward a certain ethnic conceit that over-idealizes the Latin zest for life (like "Dances With Wolves" did of Indians), and also threatens an overly heavy message against bigotry.

In the end, however, these elements are nicely balanced by humor and a genuine affection for -- and even understanding of -- the characters involved.

Charlotte and Ernesto's return from a wild weekend in Mexico is hilarious, a deftly timed sequence that shows director Thomas Schlamme (Lahti's real-life husband) knows something about comedy.

Viewers should know that some earthy language can be heard in "Crazy From the Heart," but -- unlike much we see under cable's looser standards -- it is never gratuitous and usually springs from character.

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