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A Mainstream 'Prince of Tides'

December 25, 1991|KENNETH TURAN | TIMES FILM CRITIC

More than that, by casting herself in the lead Streisand cast a heavy and wrong-headed vote on the key question of what shape the script would take. With enough plot to fill a miniseries, its a given that the entire novel would never fit into an anyone's two hour frame. But by making herself the lead, Streisand made it inevitable that "Prince of Tides" (rated R for a scene of sex-related violence and strong language) would be structured strictly as a boy-meets-girl romance and that anything that didn't further those aims would be shredded and cast aside.

So, inevitably, the best parts of Conroy's book, Tom's amazing reminiscences of the magical/awful Wingo past, the very things that make him and Savannah who they are, are either eliminated, short-changed or referred to only in passing. Though the press kit talks glowingly of how much time and effort Streisand lavished on truly coming to understand South Carolina, almost none of that is visible in the final film. What happens to brother Luke, the book's central life force, is typical. He never even appears in the movie as an adult, and the poetic title Savannah gives him, the Prince of Tides, is unceremoniously handed over to brother Tom. Thus pass the glories of the world.

Yet, like a powerful wave that leaves a residue behind even after it has receded, the strength of the novel, watered down and blanded out though it may be, combines with Nolte's performance to give this movie a resonance it wouldn't otherwise have. Even as a kind of extended foreplay, which is what it is reduced to, the stuff of Pat Conroy's tale rises above what mostly passes for screen romance these days. It's just a shame that it couldn't have been more.

'The Prince of Tides' Nick Nolte: Tom Wingo Barbra Streisand: Susan Lowenstein Blythe Danner: Sally Wingo Kate Nelligan: Lila Wingo Newbury

A Columbia Pictures Presents A Barwood/Longfellow Production, released by Columbia Pictures. Director Barbra Streisand. Producers Streisand and Andrew Karsch, co-producer Sheldon Schrager. Executive producers Cis Corman and James Roe. Screenplay by Pat Conroy and Becky Johnston. Cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt. Editor Don Zimmerman. Costumes Ruth Morley. Music James Newton Howard. Production Design Paul Sylbert. Art Director W. Steven Graham. Set decorators Caryl Heller, Arthur Howe, Jr. and Leslie Ann Pope. Sound Kay Rose. Running time: 2 hours, 12 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (for a scene of sex-related violence and for strong language).

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