By Peter Travers
Updated September 19, 1988 12:00 PM

Deception is a way of life for the Pope family. Arthur and Annie, played by Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti, were ’60s radicals involved in a napalm-lab bombing. Wanted by the FBI, they took to the road, stopping in various middle-class communities to take on new identities until the prospect of discovery sent them underground again. Along the way, the fugitive pair had two sons—17-year-old Danny (River Phoenix) and 10-year-old Harry (Jonas Abry). Danny, a gifted piano student, now wants to stop running. This is strong material for a political drama. But director Sidney (The Morning After) Lumet and screenwriter Naomi (Violets Are Blue) Foner avoid the subject, except to note that the Popes were nice radicals who didn’t know a janitor was in the building when they blew it up. Kiss your hopes for a hard edge bye-bye. Things go better for a while on the level of family drama. Lahti, a wonder of an actress, is moving in a painful reunion with her unforgiving father (Steven Hill). And Phoenix’s love for his first girl, a refreshingly blunt Martha Plimpton, underlines the pain of his rootless life. But then Foner and Lumet attack your tear ducts. As the Popes decide to let go of their children, everyone has a sob scene. The mawkish Hirsch is the most offensive blubberer. Sentiment has become a common form of movie marketing. But don’t the filmmakers know that selling politics with a sugar coating is another form of selling out? (PG-13)