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November 16, 1986|KEVIN THOMAS

Terms of Endearment (NBC Sunday at 9 p.m.), James Brooks' pungent, beautifully observed film of Larry McMurtry's novel, offers us a front-row seat for one of the spikiest, complex and entirely believable mother-and-daughter relationships to warm a screen. Shirley MacLaine won an Oscar as the critical, difficult and overpowering mother of the naive but sturdy Debra Winger. Few pictures can match the richness of this relationship, but Terms of Endearment, one of the key films of the '80s, offers even more: an unexpected romance between the willful MacLaine and Jack Nicholson, who also won an Oscar as her longtime neighbor, a paunchy, womanizing astronaut.

Sudden Impact (ABC Sunday at 9 p.m.), the latest and the least of Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry series, is a nakedly manipulative, unabashed call for everyone who believes he or she has been wronged to take the law into his or her own hands. Sondra Locke is the veritable "Dirty Harriet" of the piece, a woman who has been gang-raped along with her sister and is bent on revenge against her assailants, who have gone scot-free. (Incidentally, Channel 13 will be presenting a week of Eastwood movies at 8 p.m., starting Monday with the sturdy 1972 Western Joe Kidd.)

Leftovers, this week's new "Disney Sunday Movie" airing at 7 p.m., stars John Denver and Cindy Williams, who devote themselves to caring for hard-to-adopt kids.

Fresh, virulently funny, with an eye on life that's as offbeat as the early Beatles movies, the talents behind the bizarre and irreverent Repo Man (Channel 11 Monday at 9 p.m.) are a real discovery. Writer-director Alex Cox sets his contemporary comic portrait of the way we are (but might be happier forgetting) against the scabrous background of the automobile repossession business in Los Angeles. In this faintly surreal satire, Cox has had the great good sense to use Harry Dean Stanton, that icon of lowlife, as a crack repossessor who becomes mentor to young Emilio Estevez, who begins to see life differently as a result of his exposure to Stanton's underbelly existence.

Meredith Baxter Birney plays a bulimic housewife in the new TV movie Kate's Secret, which airs Monday at 9 p.m. on NBC. Edward Asner, Shari Belafonte-Harper and Ben Masters co-star.

Terror Train, one of the best of the Jamie Lee Curtis slasher movies, airs on Channel 5 Monday at 8 p.m.

In the new TV movie Penalty Phase (CBS Tuesday at 9 p.m.), Peter Strauss plays a judge facing an agonizing decision that could destroy his family and career. Jonelle Allen, Millie Perkins, Mitchell Ryan and Melissa Gilbert co-star.

Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy could scarcely be more engaging in WarGames (Channel 5 Wednesday at 8 p.m.) as a computer whiz and his girlfriend who blunder into access to a Defense Department computer called WOPR, programmed to play and replay World War III, learning from its mistakes. In no time Broderick is playing global nuclear war with WOPR--unaware that Norad officers have mistaken the game for the real thing. WarGames is a cautionary tale, with perception and humanity as well as exhausting tension.

Cliff Robertson directed and co-wrote as well as starred in J.W. Coop (Channel 7 Thursday at 9 p.m.), an ingratiating, low-budget saga about an aging rodeo rider dogged by bad luck that is also a lament for a vanishing Southwestern Americana.

Jonathan Kaplan's White Line Fever (Channel 11 Thursday at 9 p.m.) is an exceptionally exciting exploitation picture starring Jan-Michael Vincent as a fledgling truck driver who single-handedly takes on organized corruption controlling the long-haul industry.

Richard Franklin's Hitchcockian Road Games (Channel 5 Friday at 8 p.m.) finds Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis pursuing a killer across Australian wastelands.

Gone to Texas: The Sam Houston Story (CBS Saturday at 8 p.m.) is a new TV movie biography starring Sam Elliott as the colorful frontier hero.

Selected evening cable fare: Dreamchild (Cinemax Sunday at 6:30); To Live and Die in L.A. (Z Sunday at 7, Wednesday at 9); S.O.B. (Z Sunday at 9); La Colmena (Galavision Monday at 6:30); Angelo, My Love (Movie Channel Monday at 7); Streetwise (SelecTV Monday at 8); The Holy Innocents (Z Tuesday at 7); The Sure Thing (Z Tuesday at 9); Pauline at the Beach (Bravo Tuesday at 9:30); Judge Priest (Z Wednesday at 7:30); Le Beau Mariage (Bravo Wednesday at 8); Thief (SelecTV Thursday at 8); Dear Maestro (Bravo Friday at 8); Choose Me (Z Saturday at 7); Hardcore (Cinemax Saturday at 9:30).

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