September 17, 1984 12:00 PM

Most movies these days are so impersonal and indifferently made that this low-budget comedy with a conscience catches you up immediately. Written, directed and edited by John Sayles—the current king of independent filmmakers, thanks to the success of Return of the Secaucus Seven and Lianna—Brother tells the tale of a mute black man from another planet, Joe Morton (formerly Dr. Abel Marsh on NBC-TV’s Another World). After his spaceship crashes on Ellis Island, the alien makes his way to Harlem, where he is assaulted by a Babel of sounds and a welter of smells and sensations. At a local bar he repairs a video game with a touch. A social worker, nicely played by Tom (I Ought to Be in Pictures) Wright, gets him a job in a video arcade and a home with a white woman, her young son and her black mother-in-law. Pursued by two outer-space bounty hunters, hilariously played by David (Silkwood) Strathairn and Sayles himself, Morton comes across a heroin-pushing Wall Streeter and takes on the job of cleaning the streets of drug traffic. As a Caucasian, Sayles may get hassled for creating (or even seeing the need for) a modern black hero, especially one he could find only in another world. But his nonpatronizing touch is, with few exceptions, unerring. While Sayles makes some points about the hardships of ghetto life, his gift is for individualizing characters, and here he gives it free play. His large, interracial cast could not be bettered. Leonard (CBS-TV’s The Jeffersons) Jackson, Darryl (Fort Apache, The Bronx) Edwards and Bill (Greased Lightning) Cobbs turn street talk into an art as regulars at a Harlem bar, and standout cameos are delivered by Fisher Stevens as a subway hustler, Dee Dee Bridgewater as a jazz singer and David Babcock as a preppy lost on 125th Street. Still, the star spot belongs to Morton. He wordlessly provides the film with its center and its remarkable poignancy. Brother lacks special effects, but it has real voltage, the kind that keeps you energized long after you’ve left the theater. (PG)

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