October 26, 1992 12:00 PM

Craig Sheffer, Brad Pitt, Torn Skerritt

There are miles of breathtaking glades and glens—”a world with dew still on it,” as one character notes—in this adaptation of Norman Maclean’s autobiographical novella. There are gallons and gallons of clear, clean, rushing water. It’s a feast for the Sierra Club set. But not for audiences in search of a plot and a point.

Sheffer and younger brother Pitt have grown up in Missoula, Mont., in the early years of this century, taught from childhood by their distant minister father (Skerritt) that “there is no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.” Whatever else happens to the boys, fly-fishing is the constant. Straight-arrow Sheffer goes east to college, then returns home, hesitant about his future. Pitt has become a newspaper reporter who drinks too much, gambles and is clearly headed for a bad end. Still, when the brothers fish together, it’s as if no time (or water) has passed.

It’s hard to fathom how such a relentlessly well-meaning movie could have gotten made until one considers the intervention of Robert Bedford, River’s producer, director and voice-over narrator. The nicely modulated performances of the principals and flashes of funny writing don’t make up for the cinematically unsuitable material. Fishing is a solitary activity, usually best pursued without an audience (for the audience’s sake, at least). And though Red-ford is dealing with material similar to his Ordinary People—an emotionally distant family trying to reconcile—no psychological underpinnings enrich the story. (PG)

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