'Atlanta's Children' has the write stuff, but little else

Review: The death of 29 black children somehow gets lost in Showtime's glorification of two writers covering the horror.

July 15, 2000|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

"Twenty-nine children dead. Two reporters searching for the truth ... no matter where it takes them. Based on actual events."

That's the promotional campaign Showtime is running for the film, "Who Killed Atlanta's Children?" which premieres tomorrow night on the premium cable channel.

Don't fall for the hype. "Who Killed Atlanta's Children?" - with Gregory Hines and James Belushi - seems far more concerned with glorifying a pair of reporters for Spin magazine than it does in communicating the horror of the deaths of 29 African-American children between 1979 and 1982, or actually presenting hard evidence that the man convicted in the murders was not the killer.

The film is based on the 1986 Spin articles written by Pat Laughlin and Ron Larsen. One of its producers is Rudy Langlais, a former Spin editor who is identified in the Showtime press material as executive producer of the articles on the Atlanta murders.

Watch if you must. But, at the end of two hours that try to make Laughlin and Larsen into Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, pay close attention to the dialogue that acknowledges they could "prove" nothing. Then make sure you read the epilogue text that tells you what kind of impact their stories had: next to none.

Hines and Belushi do OK as Larsen and Laughlin, considering what they have for a script. But actors with good looks (Hines) and charm (Belushi) will only get you so far in docudrama when instead of startling facts, what you have are unsubstantiated conspiracy theories and sensational claims.

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