`Our Guys' a jolt to the conscience

Preview: Story of rape a stinging indictment of a callous society.

May 10, 1999|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

"Our Guys" is one of those small made-for-TV movies likely to get buried in the ratings by such big-budget "sweeps" events as PBS' "Great Expectations" and NBC's "Hunt for the Unicorn Killer" tonight. And that's too bad, because this fact-based film about a mentally challenged teen-age girl who was sexually assaulted by a group of football players from her high school has something important to tell us about ourselves.

The ABC film is based on an incident that took place in 1989 at affluent Glen Ridge High School in suburban New Jersey, when 17-year-old Leslie Faber (Heather Matarazzo) was lured into the basement of one of her classmates, whom she thought was a friend, and brutally assaulted by several football players.

Nothing happened immediately following the attack. The boys warned Leslie not to talk about what happened, and she didn't. But some of the football players did start talking. They also tried to borrow school audio-visual equipment so that they could rape Leslie again and videotape it. That's the kind of arrogance and callousness we are talking about.

Rumors of the attack eventually reached the point where local police were brought in to investigate, in the person of Det. Kelly Brooks, who is nicely underplayed by Ally Sheedy. You might think, at this point, that the film is going to be all about gender: female detective and female victim vs. all-male jock culture.

But "Our Guys" runs deeper than that, and, as a result, it is far more involving.

Det. Brooks finds almost no one -- female or male -- willing to help her find out what the jocks did to Leslie. Female school officials are just as eager as their male counterparts to defend anyone with a varsity letter on his sweater.

And what's this angry woman cop trying to do anyway with all her questions? Doesn't she know she could hurt some of these boys' chances of getting college scholarships?

Even Leslie bails on Det. Brooks, changing her testimony several times based on which classmate last talked to her. Much of the drama resides in wondering what Leslie will finally say in court. The only help for Brooks comes from an assistant state's prosecutor, Robert Laurino (Eric Stoltz), who has his own prejudices and agenda.

"Our Guys" is an old-fashioned social conscience film, and it is done well enough not only to nudge the conscience but to make you think. The real target is the white, suburban, adult culture that excessively celebrates male, high-school athletes.

There is nothing wrong with high-school athletics when placed in proper perspective.

In Glen Ridge, they were not. And the film shows how easy it is, in a culture that celebrates those who are strong, for some teen-agers to think those who are weaker deserve to be ridiculed, abused and even debased. It is a message the teen jocks learned from their parents.

And it is a message worth thinking about for all of us. Think about what we have learned the last two weeks about how some of the jocks at Columbine High School treated less popular kids -- calling them "fags" and "geeks" -- and draw your own conclusions.

A warning: "Our Guys" is graphic in its discourse about the assault, including vivid discussion and depiction of the objects used to violate the girl. In my opinion, the graphic detail is justified both artistically and factually.

We need to know how savage these boys were to know how concerned and outraged we ought to be. "Our Guys" is not a great movie. But it will make you think, and it will make you angry. And that makes it television worth going out of your way to see.

`Our Guys'

When: 9 to 11 tonight

Where: ABC (WMAR, Channel 2)

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