December 05, 1988 12:00 PM

Pop singer Phil Collins shows a pugnacious charm in his film acting debut as the real-life Buster Edwards, one of 15 petty crooks who pulled off England’s Great Train Robbery in 1963. They hijacked a Royal Mail train running from Glasgow to London and divided a booty of 2.6 million pounds (the equivalent then of $7.3 million). David (Car Trouble) Green directs the robbery and the manhunt that ensued at thrill-a-minute speed. Unfortunately he slows the rest of the movie down to a crawl. Colin Shindler’s script concentrates on the love story of Buster and wife June, nicely understated by Julie (Educating Rita) Walters. After the couple and daughter Nicky (Ellen Beaven) escape England for Mexico, the movie bides its time trying to milk laughs out of displaced Brits maladjusting to a foreign environment. Fed up after three years in hiding, June returns home to London with Nicky. The heartsick Buster soon follows, even though his capture is inevitable. (He was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison and served 9.) An epilogue shows Buster today, at 57, happily running a flower stall near Waterloo station with June. Proving what? Nothing this film bothers to suggest. For music fans, Collins is heard singing three songs (Groovy Kind of Love, Two Hearts and Big Noise) on the sound track. Buster is the kind of flyaway film that gives you time to notice such incidental pleasures. (R)

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