January 18, 1982 12:00 PM

There is probably an allegory about Vietnam in this film about the boys at a military academy who take over their school to protest its sale to real estate developers. Or maybe it’s a parable of militarism. Or a treatise on fanaticism and honor. Maybe it’s all of the above, which would be fine if that were clear. Instead, as events escalate into a predictable confrontation with the National Guard, the movie too often seems to be about nothing more than boys playing war. It is not the cast’s fault. You expect George C. Scott, in a small but telling role as the academy superintendent, and Ronny Cox, as the Guard commander, to be good. But the young actors are a splendid surprise. Timothy (Ordinary People) Hutton brings the dignity of the early Henry Fonda to his part as the cadet leader. He’s supported by such teenage newcomers as Sean Penn, Evan Handler and the miraculously effective Brendan Ward and John P. Navin Jr., both 13. These young men often manage to arouse compassion at the same time that the script and the direction by Harold (The Black Marble) Becker are arousing disdain. (PG)

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