TV PREVIEW

TV Preview: 'Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story'

Cuba Gooding Jr. is understated as the adult Ben Carson. The story of the Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon is based on his memoir.
Cuba Gooding Jr. is understated as the adult Ben Carson. The story of the Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon is based on his memoir. (By David Lee -- Tnt)
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By John Maynard
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, February 6, 2009

While it's hard not to be inspired by Benjamin Carson, the renowned neurosurgeon at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Children's Center, you'll need plenty of inspiration to sit through a two-hour movie about his life story.

TNT's "Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story," based on the memoir chronicling his rise from poverty in Detroit, is a treacly, plodding affair stunted by awkward transitions and a syrupy soundtrack. The story -- one that surely deserves a proper telling -- never rises above the drama of your standard hospital soap opera.

The blame cannot be placed on Cuba Gooding Jr., who delivers a commendable, understated portrayal of the adult Carson. (Two other actors play Carson as a young boy and teenager.)

Gooding, who won an Oscar for "Jerry Maguire" in 1997, hasn't inspired critics or audiences much since, having starred in such big-screen atrocities as "Snow Dogs," "Boat Trip" and "Radio." But as Carson he proves to be a grown-up actor capable of taking on meatier roles.

Nor can we fault Kimberly Elise ("The Great Debaters"), who earnestly portrays Carson's struggling single mother, Sonya, despite being saddled with ham-handed dialogue of the sort that appears on Hallmark posters. As in: "You can be anything you want to be in this life" and "Hard work ain't never hurt anybody."

The film also suffers from some sloppy jumps in time. In one scene, Carson, as a rebellious teenager, nearly comes to blows with his mom, then almost stabs a friend to death before running home in tears to clutch a Bible. We return -- after a commercial break -- to find Carson a few years later, happily playing foosball with his Yale college buddies.

TNT and the "Gifted Hands" producers should be commended for attempting to chronicle the inspiring story of Carson, who is not a household name. But it would take a very skilled surgeon -- a Dr. Carson -- to turn this movie into a must-see production.

Gifted Hands (2 hours) premieres tomorrow night at 8 on TNT.


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