Picks and Pans Review: Afterburn
HBO (Sat., May 30, 8 P.M. ET)
This docudrama grew out of a 1987 story on 60 Minutes. Laura (Rambling Rose) Dern stars as Janet Harduvel, whose Air Force husband (played by Vincent Spano) died while piloting an F-16 through a routine training mission over South Korea in 1982 (see story, page 97). Infuriated when the crash was attributed to pilot error and suspecting a cover-up of design flaws, Harduvel sued General Dynamics, the defense contractor that had built the fighter. (She wanted to go after the Air Force too, but with few exceptions, the military, as part of the government, cannot be sued.)
Through determination, luck and a good lawyer (Robert Loggia), Harduvel won, though she ultimately received no monetary damages. But the story—grim, technically dense and without clear resolution—isn’t a promising basis for a TV movie, and this project compounds its problems by taking a long time to get on track, focusing on the Harduvels’ romance and marriage. It is capably acted by a cast that includes Michael Rooker, Richard Jenkins and Dion Anderson. After the crash, the movie picks up some narrative traction, establishing Dern’s free-spirited but flinty heroine in a manner reminiscent of Meryl Streep in Silkwood.