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MOVIE REVIEW : Oliver Stone Goes to War Again : Drama: The maker of 'Platoon' touches the emotions but not the mind with 'Born on the Fourth of July.' Tom Cruise excels as disabled Vietnam War vet Ron Kovic.


And still to come is the nightmare of a scene in which the drunk, tortured Kovic confronts his mother with the blood on his conscience and his howling fury at his impotence. Aghast, she shrieks, "Don't you dare say penis in this house!," causing him to scream nothing but that word for what seems like eons. This is quintessential Oliver Stone; it's also patently unplayable. (Language like this and the film's extremely realistic battle and hospital scenes give it its R rating.)

In the film's 2 hours and 25 minutes, there seems to be warfare on the screen every 15 minutes: in Vietnam, then at home in intra-family dissension between Kovic and an anti-war younger brother, then between Kovic and his mother. There's a surreal sort of war in Mexico when Kovic, desperately trying to regain his manhood, takes refuge in a small village whose neighboring brothel caters to disabled men. Here, he butts heads and wheelchairs with fellow vet Willem Dafoe. In this vast cast, only Dafoe, Kava, Frank Whaley from the back-yard scene and Josh Evans as Kovic's younger activist brother have a chance to stand out.

Then there are the political wars: campus protests after Kent State, melees at the Republican convention at Miami Beach, where a thoroughly radicalized Kovic now leads a group of vets in protesting Nixon's acceptance speech in Miami Beach in 1972. The screen is a virtual battleground and you leave the theater battered in the onslaught.

You may not leave it feeling you know Ron Kovic, however. You have met him, suffered with him, shuddered at his pain, hoped that he would find a modicum of peace. But know him? Unfortunately for us, such crucial introductions are not Oliver Stone's strong suit.


A Universal Pictures presentation of an A. Kitman Ho & Ixtlan production of an Oliver Stone picture. Producers Ho, Stone. Director Stone. Screenplay by Stone, Ron Kovic, based on the book by Kovic. Camera Robert Richardson. Production design Bruno Rubeo. Editor David Brenner. Co-editor Joe Hutshing. Music John Williams. Costumes Judy Ruskin. Associate producers Clayton Townsend, Joseph Reidy. Sound Tod A. Maitland. Art directors Victor Kempster, Richard L. Johnson. With Tom Cruise, Raymond J. Barry, Caroline Kava, Josh Evans, Frank Whaley, Kyra Sedgwick, Jerry Levine, Willem Dafoe.

Running time: 2 hour, 25 minutes.

MPAA-rated: R (younger than 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).

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