'Miles From Nowhere' never gets going


January 07, 1992|By Michael Hill

Tonight's CBS movie is one of those films that you desperately want to like, but, try as you might, it's a difficult task.

"Miles From Nowhere" wears its good intentions -- both dramatic and social -- on its sleeve, its lapel, in its hair, attached to every part of its being.

It's got a good cast and fine performances. Indeed, if you end up spending two hours with this film that airs at 9 o'clock tonight on Channel 11 (WBAL), the depth of characterizations will keep it from being a waste of time.

And it's got a plot that tries hard -- a bit too hard -- to be Important and Meaningful and Significant without ever appearing to be so.

"Miles from Nowhere" is sort of a New England version of "The Great Santini," with an Anne Tyler-like family tragedy thrown in for good measure.

Rick Schroder continues to follow the road that has taken him away from pretty-boy child star (remember "Silver Spoons"?), playing another troubled teen, the staple of his career since "Lonesome Dove."

Two seasons ago, he played a teen who threatened suicide. A couple months ago, he was a mean brother killed by the sibling he mercilessly taunted and attacked. Now, he's the conflicted brother who comes to the aid of a sibling in a coma.

Lording over all of this is a manipulative, intense father, played by James Farentino, the master of a big blue collar Boston family of fighting Irish.

In the opening scene, the battle is joined as Schroder's Frank Reilly is astride his high school's wrestling mat, grunting and groaning and twisting and turning as Farentino's father John and various other Reillys cheer from the bleachers.

Next, John is opening Frank's wrestling scholarship to Boston College. The only problem is that Frank doesn't want to go to college. He didn't apply, his meddlesome, control-freak father had planned the whole thing, hoping his boy would go further in life than the old man, who works in a carpet operation.

Then, one thing loosely leads to another, which is the basic plotting strategy of this whole film, and Frank is told by Mom and Dad to make a trip to the grocery store and then look after his younger brother Emmett.

But, at the store, Frank runs into some buddies and heads off to a party. On the drive home, Emmett is involved in a head-on collision that leaves him in the coma.

Most of the rest of the film is taken up with Frank devoting his life to his brother's recovery, which involves some genuinely touching scenes, finding a girlfriend in a nurse at the hospital and having various temper tantrums and arguments with his father.

At times, "Miles From Nowhere" -- a title from nowhere -- plays like one of those pretentious foreign films. You're watching a scene that doesn't seem to have any connection to anything else in the film, but, simply because it is so odd and strange, you figure it must be important and filled with meaning.

Maybe in the mind of director Buzz Kulik these are filled with meaning, but in your mind, they will probably be filled with meandering.

Take, for example, a long session with Frank helping his father, who's got a rush job to lay down a carpet in a rich woman's house. We see them talk to the woman and make fun of her pet bird, then cut and hammer and sweat and grunt, earning an honest day's pay.

But, as they admire their work, John notices a bulge in the carpet. He thinks he dropped his pack of cigarettes and the carpet went over them. Faced with the prospect of pulling up all their work, Frank crushes the offending bulge flat.

Then Frank finds his dad's cigarettes and they discover that the bird is out of the cage and, presumably, now squished under the carpet. But the bird is found in the kitchen, caught and returned safely to the cage.

This long scene seems to take place so that we can hear the disagreements at the dinner table as John and Frank relate the incident to the rest of the family.

But one question remains -- WHAT WAS UNDER THE CARPET?!?

If "Miles From Nowhere" had been directed by Antonioni or Fellini, maybe doctoral dissertations would be written on that question.

But, since it's just a Tuesday night movie on CBS, you can watch "Roseanne" instead of pondering the imponderable.

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