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Television Reviews : 'Dead Solid Perfect' Views Life on Pro Golf Tour

December 17, 1988|KEVIN THOMAS

"Dead Solid Perfect" (Sunday at 8 p.m. on Home Box Office cable) takes its title from a golfing expression used when a golfer hits the ball at a perfect angle.

As it happens, writer-director Bobby Roth has hit upon the perfect angle in his and co-writer Dan Jenkins' zesty adaptation of Jenkins' novel. Roth takes us into the wearying world of professional golfing and with compassionate detachment observes the plight of Kenny Lee (Randy Quaid), whose performance and marriage are beginning to show the strain of touring the circuit for eight years.

It's been hard-scrabble all along for the Fort Worth-based Lee, but when he signs on with a canny but crass sponsor (played with exuberance by Jack Warden) it's the last straw for Lee's sophisticated wife Beverly (Kathryn Harrold), who refuses to sanction the sponsor's unabashed racism.

Roth and Jenkins have created a screenful of real people who defy easy pigeonholing, and they are well played by a first-rate cast.

It's always a good sign when the stars are not the whole show, and "Double Solid Perfect" offers a parallel couple in Donny Smithern (Brett Cullen), who's not nearly the good tour buddy Kenny would like to think, and his wife, Katie Beth (DeLane Matthews), who long ago learned to overlook her husband's many peccadilloes.

Cullen and Matthews make this couple just as real as Quaid and Harrold's unhappy Lees. Similarly, Corinne Bohrer's golf groupie who offers Kenny consolation is not a stupid bimbo, although she is decidedly transient in nature. Bibi Besch complements Warden perfectly as his garish, fun-loving wife.

From the start of his career as an independent film maker, Bobby Roth has shown an awareness and concern for black Americans and a realization that their roles in society are not always peripheral. In this regard the capable Larry Riley has the pivotal part in "Dead Solid Perfect." He's not only Kenny Lee's caddy but his coach and best friend, the one man Kenny is prepared to listen to in his troubles.

"Dead Solid Perfect," which also will air on Wednesday, Friday and Dec. 27, heads toward an ending that's not exactly surprising, but it's well-earned and satisfying. The film represents a major improvement over Roth and Jenkins' previous HBO collaboration, "Baja Oklahoma," which lapsed into caricature because it had no fully developed story to tell in the first place.

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