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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Across the Tracks' Races Toward an Emotional Finish

February 15, 1991|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sandy Tung's "Across the Tracks" (at the Fairfax Cinemas) is a modest, engaging teen movie of exceptional substance and insight that boasts shining performances from Rick Schroder and Brad Pitt as troubled brothers and from Carrie Snodgress as their worn, caring widowed mother.

The film plays like a conventional TV movie in its neat plotting and resolution, yet its lack of flash is in keeping with its resolute emotional honesty, which packs an eye-misting wallop.

Schroder's Billy Maloney, home from a reform school stint for involvement in a car theft, is greeted with open arms by his mother but with considerably less enthusiasm by his older brother, Joe (Pitt). While Billy only wants to slip back into his family with as little fuss as possible, Joe is striving mightily to escape life in a San Fernando Valley trailer park. He sees his only way out is to land a track scholarship, which means running hard, studying hard and trying to hold down a part-time loading dock job. He doesn't feel he has time for even the occasional date, let alone for a brother he doesn't respect.

Although "Across the Tracks" is not autobiographical, Tung has said, "I wanted to say something about brothers, something about the way I learned from my own brother." The heart of the film is the evolving relationship between Billy and Joe, which is beautifully brought to life in all its edginess and complexity by Tung and his actors. Grudgingly at first, Joe extends a hand to his brother but when he eventually lends his all-out support the unexpected consequences are ironic and challenging in the utmost.

With the relationship between the brothers as his story's sturdy linchpin, Tung, a New York University cinema graduate with TV and documentary credits, is able to illuminate related matters as well. He is adept at conveying the pressures upon Billy to slide back into a life of crime, generating considerable suspense in the process, and beyond that, reveals both Billy and Joe to have been the victims, in differing ways, of an alcoholic father.

Under Tung's direction Schroder and Pitt express the full range of the brothers' loving yet often conflicting feelings for each other. Snodgress, in turn, conveys the understandable apprehension that underlies her love for both her sons. David Anthony Marshall relieves the earnestness of "Across the Tracks" (rated R for language, drug-taking) by finding some humor in Billy's older pal, Louie, a thoroughly bad dude.

'Across the Tracks'

Rick Schroder: Billy Maloney

Brad Pitt: Joe Maloney

Carrie Snodgress: Rosemary Maloney

David Anthony: Marshall Louie

A Rosenbloom Entertainment release. Writer-director Sandy Tung. Producer Dale Rosenbloom. Cinematographer Michael Delahoussaye. Editor Farrel Levy. Costumes Merrie Lawson. Music Joel Goldsmith. Production design Thomas Meleck. Set decorator Andrew Shourd. Sound Reinhard Stergar.

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

MPAA-rated: R (for language and drug content).

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