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August 28, 1988|KEVIN THOMAS

Writer-director Philip Kaufman reached into Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff (ABC Sunday at 9 p.m., concluding Monday at 9 p.m.), a hyperventilated account of America's entry into the space age, and pulled out a plum, creating one of the key films of the '80s. In this brash, beautiful, deeply American film, Kaufman has come up with a high-spirited look at the bravery and lunacy of that era in which the most righteous right stuff is the personal property of Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager, played by Sam Shepard in his best Gary Cooper manner. Yeager's heroism in its purity is contrasted with that of the original astronauts, whose "right stuff" is diluted with the hype and hoopla of the space program.

Even today, when you visit Waikiki, you are shown the park where four native Hawaiian youths supposedly raped a U.S. Navy officer's wife. A heady tale of scandal, prejudice and corruption in 1930s Honolulu, this incident and its consequences made for some of TV's richest melodrama in the 1986 season--even though the second part of Blood and Orchids is not as effective as the first. The four-hour production repeats on CBS Sunday and Tuesday at 9 p.m. Adapted by Norman Katkov and Steve Shagan from Katkov's novel, the film stars Kris Kristofferson, Jane Alexander, Jose Ferrer and Sean Young.

Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (NBC Sunday at 9 p.m.), the first of three dismal sequels to the raucous original is so wretched that it's painful to watch Steve Guttenberg and other talented graduates shot down by the sheer wretchedness of this 1985 film, which sends them to a Skid Row precinct to help squelch gang warfare.

Fandango (NBC Monday at 9 p.m.) means, among other things, "a foolish act." The title refers to a spree that five college youths--Kevin Costner, Judd Nelson, Sam Robards, Chuck Bush and Brian Cesak--embark upon in the summer of '71 as the specter of the Vietnam War closes in on them. Unfortunately, a foolish act succinctly describes the film itself, overreaching badly and sinking under the heavy weight of symbolism, bathos and sheer preposterousness that no amount of incident and humor can redeem.

Set in the smoky, sex-crazed seaport of Macao, the snake-infested, smoky jungles of the distant land of the Yik-Yak and the smoky, all-woman Forbidden City--the smoke machines must have been churning overtime on The Perils of Gwendoline (Channel 11 Tuesday at 8 p.m.), a wondrous 1985 rip-off, sort of a "Raiders of the Lost Ark" set at the Playboy Mansion. Loaded with scantily clad young lovelies in various ensembles of bondage, this agonizingly dumb French-financed sex fantasy has all the subtlety and charm of a Tarzan movie. Tawny Kitaen stars.

At 9 p.m. Wednesday, NBC repeats Desperado, a 1987 TV movie western starring Alex McArthur and David Warner, while PBS (Channels 28, 50, 15 and 24) offers Missile, esteemed documentarian Frederick Wiseman's study of a Strategic Air Command base group being trained to man the buttons that launch nuclear weapons.

"Miami Vice's" executive producer Michael Mann made a splashy directorial debut with the high-style, hard-edged 1981 Thief (Channel 5 Thursday at 8 p.m.), in which James Caan plays a professional criminal eager to break away and live a normal life with his family.

The 1984 Tank (CBS Thursday at 9 p.m.) is a picture with possibilities and an attractive star performance from James Garner that's among his best, but Marvin J. Chomsky's blunt, straight-on direction flattens out the film as surely as if it had been run over by the Sherman tank of its title. "Tank," which pits Garner's decent professional soldier against G.D. Spradlin's corrupt Southern sheriff, turns out to be a rabble-rouser, but were it not so broad, it could have been more than that.

Kung Fu: The Movie (CBS Friday at 9 p.m.) is a so-so TV movie in which David Carradine is once again Kwai Chang Caine of the early '70s TV series. This time he takes on Mako, cast as a warlord involved in opium trading in California a century ago.

The Journey of Natty Gann (ABC Saturday at 8 p.m.) is an affecting 1985 Disney picture about a girl (Meredith Salenger) who crosses the country during the depths of the Depression with a wolf for a traveling companion.

In Lost and Found (Channel 13 Saturday at 8 p.m.) writer-director Mel Frank and George Segal and Glenda Jackson attempted to capture the sparkle of their "A Touch of Class," but it pretty much eluded them in this fizzled 1979 romantic comedy about a recently widowed English teacher (Segal) and a new divorcee who meet in the French Alps.

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