By Terry Kelleher
September 08, 1997 12:00 PM

Showtime (Sun., Sept. 7, 8p.m. ET)


We’ll say two things for this scattershot indictment of racial politics, legal manipulation and media exploitation: It’s never boring, and it offers no easy answers. Four black youths from the Bronx (Eugene Byrd, Mark Taylor, Dulé Hill and Malcolm Goodwin) hijack a car driven by a white New Jersey woman (Lisa Pelikan). In the process, one of them strikes her on the head with his gun and kills her. The conservative Manhattan D.A. (F. Murray Abraham) jostles with other prosecutors for jurisdiction over the case, seeing it as a chance to further his mayoral ambitions. A black minister-activist (Gregory Hines) postures to the media and claims the defendants are victims of a racist society. Their court-appointed counsel (Judd Hirsch), a ’60s-vintage liberal, puts law enforcement on trial. A TV reporter (Mia Korf) plays up the racial angle to please her ratings-hungry bosses. And the slain woman’s husband (Bruce Davison) waits in anguish for simple justice.

Although filled with real-life parallels—listen for echoes of Fred Goldman and New York City’s controversial Rev. Al Sharpton—the film sounds distinctly unreal when writer-producer Lionel Chetwynd forces characters to mouth his ideas rather than express their own points of view. (Surely the activist would not say, “I’m on TV, therefore I am.”) Chetwynd’s determination to make a statement is clearer than the statement itself, but at least he stimulates discussion.