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Television Review

Space Shuttle Story in 'Max Q' Stalls in Atmosphere of Bad Timing

November 19, 1998|DARYL H. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

This is one launch that mission control should have postponed.

"Max Q," the first television film from producer Jerry Bruckheimer ("Armageddon," "Top Gun"), wags its finger at America for having become so blase about its space missions, then tries to get viewers' hearts racing by consigning a space shuttle crew to near-certain death.

Clearly, ABC scheduled this movie tonight in hopes that Bruckheimer's name and any residual "Armageddon" hype would translate into strong sweeps-month numbers. But the timing is all wrong. It comes just two weeks after America turned its eyes to the sky once again to follow John Glenn's return to space, and its story of a shuttle-board mishap--a questionable plot line to begin with, in light of the lingering horror of the 1986 Challenger explosion--seems particularly distasteful given the nation's recent anxiousness over Glenn and the Discovery crew's safe return.

The mission concocted by writers John Lee Hancock and Robert J. Avrech is more believable than the riffraff-saves-the-Earth scenario of "Armageddon," but, under Michael Shapiro's direction, it's also less gripping.

The show's most provocative element is its underlying commentary about the once-proud space program being reduced to a mere satellite delivery service for corporate America. Everything else is pretty dopey--particularly the climax, though its wild ride through downtown L.A. should play well with the local crowd.

The casting--with Bill Campbell and Ned Vaughn as the lead space hunks--seems to assume that NASA selects only the best-looking prospects for its astronaut program, but the actors give their all, providing the most truly laudable element in this whole enterprise.

*

* "Max Q: Emergency Landing" airs at 9 tonight on ABC. The network has rated it TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children).

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