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Television Review

Elian's Story, the Fox Quickie Version

September 16, 2000|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

What's amazing about Elian Gonzalez is how swiftly he sank from U.S. awareness after leaving these shores for his Cuban homeland with his father, Juan Miguel. One day we're getting second-by-second updates on him, the next he's not even a pulse beat. But . . .

He's b-a-a-a-ack.

The occasion is "The Elian Gonzalez Story" on the Fox Family Channel. It's the inevitable TV quickie on this politically charged episode that transfixed opportunistic politicians and much of the media for months. They pounced after Elian was found adrift in an inner tube three miles off the coast of Florida, the rickety, crowded boat he had shared with his mother, her boyfriend and other fleeing Cubans having gone down in a storm.

Although some of the media frenzy is nicely re-created here, expect no fresh insights. In fact, if you're into superficial instant history--upchucked headlines and fanciful scripting--Dennis Turner has written and Christopher Leitch has directed the tedious movie for you. You know something is askew when that noted thespian, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, has a cameo role in "The Elian Gonzalez Story."

It's based, says Fox, on information from such "key insiders" as "family members, community leaders, Cuban activists, representatives from the INS, Elian's teachers and lawyers." But notably, not "key insiders" Elian and his father, now back in authoritarian Cuba and apparently unavailable to U.S. inquisitors.

Juan Miguel (Esai Morales) and his former wife, Elizabeth (Seidy Lopez), are both devoted parents here, even though the mother's recklessness in bringing Elian (Alec Roberts) on this lethal voyage, so he can "grow up free" in the U.S., nearly costs the boy his life. By all rights, it should have.

So no wonder he's anointed a "miracle child" by Cuban Americans in Miami's Little Havana after his rescue by a pair of fishermen, one of whom turns out to be a fibbing, self-serving camera hound who much later somehow is hiding in a closet with Elian as armed U.S. marshals pluck the boy from the home of his great uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez (Miguel Sandoval), in a predawn raid.

Although keeping Elian from his father, Lazaro is a man of honor and principle in this account, opposing attempts by Cuban American leaders to make Elian a poster boy in the propaganda war against Cuban leader Fidel Castro. But his 21-year-old daughter, Marisleysis (Laura Elena Haring), is the loopy zealot Americans will recall from the news, coaching Elian to say he doesn't want to return to Cuba with his father in that famous home video given wide TV exposure.

Not content with repeating what's known, however, this movie extends dramatic license to the extreme by creating a dialogue between Juan Miguel and Cuban leader Fidel Castro and another between Elian ("Mama, please don't leave me") and his mother ("You'll be free, Elian, like I dreamed for you") as she's about to go under.

Nourishing legend, moreover, a sequence is created supporting the notion that little Elian, while floating in his inner tube, was protected from sharks and guided toward the U.S. by dolphins. Anti-Castro dolphins, no doubt.

* "The Elian Gonzalez Story" can be seen Sunday night at 8 on Fox Family. The network has rated it TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children).

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