September 12, 1988 12:00 PM

Burt Lancaster is a great actor, but he can’t work the miracle of saving this picture from jacked-up sentimentality. Lancaster plays Levi Rockwell, a widower and formerly blacklisted writer set to celebrate his 77th birthday at his Long Island home. His family gathers: one son, a phonaholic film producer played by John Glover, and Glover’s wife (Sinead Cusack); two married daughters (Patricia Clarkson, wed to pitcher Bill Pullman, and Frances Conroy, wed to stand-up comic Kevin Spacey) and a single sex-crazed daughter, the voluptuous Suzy Amis. Then there are eight grandchildren, led by charmer Macaulay Culkin, 8. The plot quickly turns from ahhh to ugh as director Daniel (Fort Apache, the Bronx) Petrie introduces these characters in lockstep TV-formula style. Petrie seems unable to keep the camera off Culkin, perhaps thinking a cute child will draw attention away from Amos (Alphabet City) Poe’s soggy script. The grandkids, more imaginative than their trendy parents, fix up an old skiff named Rocket Gibraltar (bet you were wondering about the title) as a gift for Granddad. One day at the beach, Lancaster mesmerizes them with a tale of a Viking funeral at sea. The tykes figure he can use the boat for his funeral, which judging from the frequent visits of family doc George Martin can’t be far off. While his family squabbles thirtysomething-style, Lancaster spends most of the movie in his room reading poetry and listening to great old Billie Holiday records. Wise man, (PG)

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