November 22, 1987|Kevin Thomas

Susan Seidelman's endearingly hilarious Desperately Seeking Susan (Channel 13 Sunday at 6 p.m.) finds a young New Jersey housewife (Rosanna Arquette) so bored that she starts living vicariously through the personals columns to the extent that, after a conk on her head, she comes to think she may be an uninhibited, lush-looking beauty named Susan (Madonna, in a sensational film debut she has yet to equal), a mistake of identity that plunges her into high adventure. Aidan Quinn co-stars as the new man in Arquette's life.

The Thanksgiving Promise (ABC Sunday at 7 p.m.) is a 1986 TV movie starring three generations of Bridges--Lloyd, Beau and Beau's son Jordan--with Beau directing; unfortunately the young Jordan is not up to carrying the film as a 12-year-old whose job of raising a gosling for a neighbor's Thanksgiving dinner develops into a moral dilemma.

The Empire Strikes Back (NBC Sunday at 8:30 p.m.), the hugely accomplished and exciting follow-up to "Star Wars" may, toward its slow and extended final stretch, test the youngest and the shortest attention spans but otherwise mixes the familiar with the new to rush the story forward. The special effects are again stupendous, and returning for more adventure and romance are Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guinness and others.

Kenny Rogers as 'The Gambler' III: The Legend Continues (CBS Sunday and Tuesday at 9 p.m.) finds Rogers' Brady Hawkes and his pal Billy Montana (Bruce Boxleitner) seeking justice for the Sioux during the climactic days of the Indian wars in the Dakota Territory in this new two-part, four-hour movie.

Sixteen Candles (Channel 13 Monday at 8 p.m.) marked an uneven directorial debut for John Hughes, who's gone on to become the king of the teen film. It's an uneasy mix of the sympathetic and the synthetic, the raucous and the racist--in the case of the crudely drawn, sex-starved Chinese exchange student that the talented Gedde Watanabe is stuck playing. It also asks us to believe that an entire family would forget lovely Molly Ringwald's 16th birthday.

In the new TV movie Lena: My 100 Children (NBC Monday at 9 p.m.) Linda Lavin stars as the late Lena Kuchler-Silberman, who risked her life after World War II to get 100 Jewish children out of Poland and into Israel.

In the enthralling Amadeus (Channel 5 Tuesday at 7 p.m.), which Peter Shaffer and director Milos Forman adapted from Shaffer's play, the genius is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) and the "mediocrity" is Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), reigning success of the court of Emperor Joseph II of Austria, a man driven to deadly jealousy of the young, impudent and tragically naive Mozart. This Oscar-laden 1984 film was a popular success--a superb, intelligent period piece, at once vital and poignant; Mozart's music and his operas are incorporated ingeniously into the plot, and Budapest stands in stunningly for 18th-Century Vienna.

The Karate Kid (NBC Tuesday at 8 p.m.) is one of those movies in which everything works right from the start. Director John Avildsen and writer Robert Mark Kamen capture a rhythm and naturalness in pacing, dialogue and acting that sustains this irresistibly shameless heart-tugger straight to the finish. Slight, dark-eyed Ralph Macchio, newly arrived from Newark to Reseda, learns how to handle the bullies when he's tutored by kindly yet strict Noriyuki (Pat) Morita.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai (Channel 11 Wednesday at 8 p.m.) stars "RoboCop's" Peter Weller in the title role as an adventurer into the scientific unknown who happens to be the coolest of the cool, the hippest of the hip, the world-class neurosurgeon/jet car designer-driver/particle physicist/East Jersey bar band musician. He is a thing of Armani threads and Zen patches who walks the Earth without disturbing a blade of its grass; an Amerasian, high-cheekboned, laser blue-eyed born leader. Be prepared: this diabolically clever comedy-satire written by Earl Mac Rauch, directed by W. D. Richter and designed by Michael Riva is so densely packed that you may need at least three viewings to absorb most of its throwaway references.

Gandhi (CBS Wednesday and Thursday at 9 p.m.), director Richard Attenborough and writer John Briley's compelling, intelligent, epic-scale version of the life of the liberator of India, stars Ben Kingsley in the title role. The film makers open boldly with the 1947 assassination of Gandhi, and then cut to the 23-year-old Indian attorney's ejection from a whites-only railway carriage in South Africa, an incident that Gandhi always referred to as the moment his path was set. In Gandhi, as in the current "Cry Freedom," Attenborough turns the large-scale British Empire saga against itself in the name of freedom and dignity while retaining the splash and vigor of the traditional entertainments.

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