January 30, 1989 12:00 PM

Most of us remember Keith Gordon as the kid who tried to track down the killer of his mom, Angie Dickinson, in Dressed to Kill or as Rodney Dangerfield’s son in Back to School. He’s a fine actor. But the Robert Cormier novel Gordon has chosen to adapt and direct is maddeningly metaphorical and slower than a line at the department of motor vehicles. At St. Trinity, a parochial school for boys, the annual chocolate sale is underway. Brother Leon, played with sadistic glee by John (Scrooged) Glover, must convince each of the school’s 400 students to sell at least 50 boxes of chocolates. Blackmail, threats and caning are just a few of Brother Leon’s methods to boost his position in the St. Trinity hierarchy by doubling last year’s sales. But when a rebel student (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) refuses to comply, anarchy ensues. A rebel has found a cause and the school a new hero. A livid Brother Leon enlists the strong-arm help of the Vigils, the school’s elitist gang, to crush the troublemaker. Gordon dives headlong into the plot’s symbolic waters. The alleged profundity of the piece is underscored with penetrating close-ups, harsh lighting and pounding music. No petty schoolboy comedy here. We’re dealing with war, power politics, youth being forced to play by the rules of a corrupt society. What might have worked with a light, satirical touch gets a portentous treatment that would shame Ingmar Bergman. Gordon meant to make a movie that shouts “significant.” But those in the audience not already numbed into hibernation are more likely to shout back “sophomoric.” (R)

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