April 28, 1997 12:00 PM

Showtime (premieres Sun., April 27, 8 p.m. ET)


It’s a worthy idea: Within a two-hour film, present four individual but intersecting stories that look at the Los Angeles riots of 1992 from different perspectives: African-American, Asian, Anglo and Hispanic. But the concept has an inherent weakness: With limited time to introduce each set of characters before hurling them into the tumult on the streets, the drama often forces them to carry on moral arguments as cars burn and store windows shatter. What should be meaningful dialogue is reduced to shouted sloganeering (sometimes spiked with obscenities).

Fortunately Riot has more to recommend it than lung power. The segment called Gold Mountain starkly illustrates the generation gap between a deferential Chinese shopkeeper (Mako) in the South Central section and his angry son (Dante Basco), who feels constantly buffeted by ethnic slurs and slights. Another segment, Empty, effectively adopts the viewpoint of one white cop (Luke Perry) trying to balance professional responsibility and departmental loyalty as racial violence erupts over the acquittal of the officers involved in the Rodney King beating. One flaw: Perry seems a little too cool when his character goes over the edge.

A strong cast (Cicely Tyson, Mario Van Peebles and his father, Melvin Van Peebles) redeems the didacticism of Homecoming Day, which depicts a black family victimized when a neighborhood destroys itself in blind rage. Only Caught in the Fever fails to convince, as three Hispanic teenagers (Douglas Spain, Yelba Osorio and Alexis Cruz) conduct a running debate on the ethics of looting—while they busily loot.

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