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TV REVIEWS : Networks Go for Sweeps' Big Gun via 'Rambo,' Cannon, 'Windmills'

February 06, 1988|TERRY ATKINSON

You've heard how the networks "roll out their big guns" during the sweeps. Well, it's time to roll out that cliche again, because Sunday at 9 p.m., the "guns" are almost literal--at least in the case of one network.

NBC is turning the impressive firepower of Sylvester Stallone in the network premiere of "Rambo: First Blood, Part II" against two new blockbuster made-for-TV movies, ABC's "Elvis and Me" (based on Priscilla Beaulieu Presley's book about marriage to Elvis Presley) and the first two hours of CBS' four-hour "Windmills of the Gods."

ABC did not provide The Times with an advance review copy of "Elvis and Me"--possibly because the two-hour film was still being shot less than a month ago. Too bad. It would have been interesting to see whether the TV version captures the book's curious mixture of revelation and reverence.

However, "Windmills of the Gods" comes across as a suspenseful thriller that may be just involving enough to keep many curious viewers away from the clutches of the real Sly and a portrayed Elvis.

In this adaptation of the Sidney Sheldon novel, Jaclyn Smith plays Mary Ashley, a Midwestern college professor who's appointed ambassador to Romania and thrust into the middle of intrigue, romance and packing. Eventually (in Tuesday's conclusion) she must figure out whether it's strong, handsome embassy staffer Mike Slade (Robert Wagner) or strong, handsome French doctor Dr. DesForges (Christopher Cazenove) who loves her--or is trying to kill her.

Adapter John Gay and director Lee Philips juggle multinational locales and characters with true-to-genre dexterity. Production values and cinematography shine, almost shadowing some draggy moments in the first half and a couple of unbelievable plot contrivances in the second--as when one character meets another alone in a secluded spot even though he suspects that person of being a killer.

The main problems with the film, though, is more glaring: the troubling nature of Smith's character. This teacher-turned-diplomat is superficially presented as an independent career woman, yet she's continually being guided, elevated, corrected, manipulated and saved by men. In their absence, she commits such dumb-belle acts as walking in a dark Romanian park at night without a guard. (Naturally, she's rescued from thugs by one of those strong, handsome types.)

Ambassador Ashley has less in common with the modern Ms. than with Cinderella or with Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz." Is it merely a coincidence that both are mentioned in the teleplay, and that Ashley's from Kansas? Nevertheless, "Windmills" cranks up enough intentional puzzles to keep up interest for all of its four hours.

Two hours earlier (7 p.m. Sunday), ABC presents Dyan Cannon as "Rock 'n' Roll Mom," the "Disney Sunday Movie," and it's a perfect appetizer before one of those heavy 9 p.m. meals.

Cannon plays a 40ish, small-town mother of two teen-agers who's also an amateur songwriter and singer. When a talent manager sells one of her tunes, the results catapult her into the rock world.

In the best Disney live-action tradition, this two-hour film manages to be engaging despite its corniness.

The frequent fun comes thanks to quick-paced direction from Michael Schultz, snappy music by Lee Ritenour, sharp dialogue by Gen Le Roy and, above all, vibrant acting by the entire cast--which includes Heather Locklear (from "Dynasty") as a conceited rock diva threatened by Cannon's rise.

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