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MOVIES OF THE WEEK

March 15, 1987|Kevin Thomas

From the start, it's clear that the cast of Cannonball Run II (ABC Sunday at 9 p.m.) is having fun, but not so those of us watching this puerile nonsense. Once again Burt Reynolds and sidekick Dom DeLuise have entered that maverick cross-country race, the Cannonball Run, which this time has a $1-million stake, thanks to sheik Jamie Farr, who's also competing. The film boasts a Rat Pack reunion (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Shirley MacLaine) but it's not much help.

The Stepford Children (NBC Sunday at 9 p.m.), the second TV movie spinoff of "The Stepford Wives," finds Barbara Eden and Don Murray moving into that Eastern suburban community where "perfection" is required.

The "Disney Sunday Movie" is Young Harry Houdini (ABC at 7 p.m.) in which Wil Wheaton plays the famous magician at 12, the age at which he ran away to join a traveling medicine show (whose impresario is played by Jose Ferrer).

Broadway Danny Rose (Channel 13 Monday at 8 p.m.) is Woody Allen at his most irresistible. He casts himself as a doggedly persevering small-time talent agent who crosses paths with a blonde gangster's moll (a wonderfully raucous Mia Farrow, virtually unrecognizable with dark glasses and a Brooklyn accent). Pure joy from start to finish.

The new TV movie In Love and War (NBC Monday at 9 p.m.) stars James Woods (best actor Oscar nominee for "Salvador") as U.S. Navy Commander Jim Stockdale, imprisoned eight years in Vietnam, and Jane Alexander as his wife Sybil, who dedicated herself to publicize the plight of POWS.

Ted Danson and Ally Sheedy star in We Are the Children (ABC Monday at 9 p.m.) as a brash TV journalist and an idealistic doctor caught up in the Ethiopian famine.

"Miami Vice's" executive producer Michael Mann made a splashy feature directorial debut with the high-style, hard-edged Thief (Channel 5 Tuesday at 8 p.m.), in which James Caan plays a professional criminal eager to break away and live a normal life with his family. Robert Prosky is memorable as an avuncular yet menacing underworld kingpin. It's at once poignant and exciting.

The new TV movie Murder by the Book (CBS Tuesday at 9 p.m.) is a mystery caper starring Robert Hays as both a mild-mannered author and his fictional alter ego.

One of the key American films of the '70s, Arthur Penn's Little Big Man (Channel 11 Wednesday at 9 p.m.) is a revisionist Western epic that shows what our love of the tall tales of the Old West reveals about ourselves--especially our treatment of the Indians. Dustin Hoffman is superb as the ancient sole survivor of Custer's Last Stand.

Airing at 8 p.m. Wednesday on Channel 13, Ride Beyond Vengeance is a more conventional but solid and satisfying Western, starring Chuck Connors and boasting an extraordinary supporting cast including Gloria Grahame and Joan Blondell.

Woody Allen stars in Play It Again, Sam (Channel 2 Thursday at 9 p.m.), directed by Herbert Ross from Allen's adaptation of his own play. Allen is a born loser--too bright to pretend he is anything else--who receives a steady stream of advice, all of it lousy, from a personal god, Humphrey Bogart (Jerry Lacy, in an amazing simulation). It's a satisfying comedy in which the humor actually develops from character rather than plot; with Susan Anspach, Tony Roberts and Diane Keaton.

Thunder Bay (Channel 11 Thursday at 9 p.m.), one of the splendid James Stewart-Anthony Mann collaborations, is an action adventure centering on a conflict between oil drillers and Louisiana shrimp fishermen.

Veteran cameraman William A. Fraker made a fine directorial debut with Monte Walsh (Channel 11 Friday at 9 p.m.), a poetic tribute to the cowboy in the last days before barbed wire and settlers started fencing him in. Lee Marvin is at his best in the title role as a good man who knows nothing but being a cowboy; Jeanne Moreau, in her Hollywood debut, is marvelously warm and tender as a frontier prostitute, at once mythic in her beauty and desirability but also undeniably a working professional.

Jonathan Demme's Swing Shift (CBS Saturday at 9 p.m.) is an astonishingly accurate evocation of Los Angeles during World War II. Goldie Hawn stars as a demure housewife transformed by her new job as a war factory riveter, but Christine Lahti all but steals the show as her easy-going bungalow court neighbor. Kurt Russell is the 4F factory worker-jazz musician who leads Hawn astray. A little uneven but largely satisfying.

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