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Prime-Time Flicks

July 28, 1996|Kevin Thomas

With its languid pace and homespun feel, Incident in a Small Town (Sunday on CBS at 9 p.m.) has little trouble capturing the kind of rural ambience suggested in its title. In this second sequel to the 1991 TV movie "The Incident," even Walter Matthau and Harry Morgan appear less than energized by their respective roles as local lawyer and judge. The 1994 movie unfolds after Matthau's estranged daughter (Stephanie Zimbalist) beckons him to her rural community in Illinois in 1953. She wants legal help in dealing with her abusive ex-boyfriend who has returned in the hopes of establishing a relationship with their illegitimate 13-year-old son.

The Bonfire of the Vanities (ABC Sunday at 9 p.m.) made such a wretched mess, at once tedious and facetious, of Tom Wolfe's contemporary morality play, it is a true measure of their star power that Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith actually survived this 1990 disaster as did their director Brian De Palma.

The 1982 Fast Times at Ridgemont High (KTLA Thursday at 8 p.m.), which introduced bright, fresh talent on both sides of the camera, seems a movie with ambitions cut down to fit the rigid box-office formula that dictates as much sex and nudity that an R rating can sustain and decrees that teenagers never have anything in mind but sex. Even so, it's worth seeing Jennifer Jason Leigh as a Valley girl and Sean Penn as a boisterous, air headed surfer.

An advisory regarding violent content will accompany the 1993 TV movie Shameful Secrets (ABC Thursday at 9 p.m.) More helpful would be a warning that this Joanna Kerns vehicle about a battered wife fighting to keep her children is an interminable assault. That could well be the intention--keep up a relentless barrage of physical and verbal abuse, injustices, cuts and bruises to get viewers to identify with Kerns as Maryanne, the wife victimized by both her husband (Tim Matheson, in a thankless role) and a court system that did not allow spousal abuse testimony in custody. But the recurring scenes of violence, shrieks, tears and child trauma cross the line into exploitation.

In the 1987 The Untouchables (KCOP Friday at 7:30 p.m.) director Brian De Palma and writer David Mamet restage the Chicago Prohibiton-era liquor wars as a modern western; a stripped-down battle between straight-arrow G-Man (Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness) and flamboyant thug (Robert DeNiro as Al Capone); with Oscar-winner Sean Connery's streetwise Chicago-Irish cop as the swing man, wise to corruption, incensed at injustice. Ness is the movie's weakest character.

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