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TV REVIEW : 'Leap of Faith' Stumbles Over Cliches

October 06, 1988|LYNNE HEFFLEY

"Leap of Faith," airing at 9 tonight on Channels 2 and 8, is a cinch to raise a few eyebrows within the American Medical Assn., based as it is on the true story of Debby Franke Ogg. Ogg's successful battle against lymphatic cancer included two years of acupuncture, macrobiotics, meditation, exercise, guided imagery and visualization techniques.

Luminous beauty Anne Archer (the good wife in "Fatal Attraction") and Sam Neill ("Reilly: Ace of Spies") are Debby and Oscar Ogg, the upscale, loving newlyweds who refuse to accept a diagnosis of incurable cancer as the final word.

With Oscar's untiring support and seemingly limitless funds, Debby begins to explore what one doctor calls "supermarket tabloid cures." She uses "guided imagery"--a way, some believe, to activate one's own immune system by mentally picturing the destruction of a disease.

Debby's tumor vanishes, to the amazement of her kindly doctor (Michael Constantine) and she is able to lead a normal life--even becoming a mother.

What is wrong here is not the notion that exercise, deep breathing, nutrition and stress-reducing techniques are common sense for healthy living, if not scientifically proven to cure disease. It is that we are not more moved by the jubilant triumph of Debby Ogg's survival.

There's a bothersome tinge of smugness in Bruce Hart's script, along with a wiser-than-thou attitude that director Stephen Gyllenhaal allows to show on the faces of most of the actors not playing conventional doctors. And there are jarring cliches such as "We're gonna lick this thing" and "life is a terminal disease."

There's no tearing up of the scenery here. In fact, it is the overly muted passion of the film that leaves viewers to wonder why the Oggs' well of belief was so deep throughout their life-and-death struggle.

Archer and Neill seem emotionally shallow--anger, doubt and despair are too easily muffled in serene smiles and warm embraces. In the end, the Oggs seem to have become secondary to a high-gloss guided tour through a dictionary of unorthodox healing techniques.

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