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'A Time of Destiny'

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 22, 1988


Gregory Nava
William Hurt;
Timothy Hutton;
Melissa Leo;
Stockhard Channing
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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"Father always liked you best," says William Hurt to his brother's ghost in "A Time of Destiny." (The notion that Tom Smothers' spirit is lurking somewhere off camera spoils the moment for me.) Hurt's role as a vengeful psycho churns up this laughable purple potboiler, but even the perennial Oscar nominee can't save it from itself.

Hurt is acting like crazy in a performance the likes of which we haven't seen since the silent movie days. Subtlety would, however, be wasted on this '40s melodrama. Hurt plays Martin, the only surviving son of a crabby Basque patriarch (Francisco Rabal) who disinherited the ne'er-do-well. Papa accidentally drowns, and Martin shadows his sister's new husband Jack, whom he holds responsible. Timothy Hutton is good Jack, who unwittingly saves Martin's life when the two become buddies in World War II.

Set in Italy and San Diego, the story moves between the romanticized rubble of the front and the Hallmark card called California. There, Jack's wife Josie (Melissa Leo) struggles to keep the squabbling but tight-knit gaggle of Basques from falling apart while the men are off at war. These women, who obviously don't have a chromosome in common, are played by Stockard Channing, Megan Follows (who played the title role in "Anne of Green Gables"), Concha Hidalgo and the beatific Leo.

Ivory soap wouldn't melt in Josie's mouth, she's so pure. And if Leo doesn't convince you of this with her I'm-heaven-sent performance, director Gregory Nava will with his halos. These are especially prominent when the radiant Josie and Jack take their vows before a glowing priest in a glowing church.

The church bells peal as the pair go off to cement their marital bond physiologically, with Hutton actually rather endearing as Jack. "I don't have a lot of experience about (little catch in the throat) . . . things," says Josie. Neither does Jack, who reassures her sweetly as waves of music, like sonic pancake syrup, swell in the technicolor night.

This is not Nava's first time, but it is his first major feature. He was acclaimed for the modestly budgeted "El Norte," but as happens so often, a second-timer with a bigger budget is tempted to excess.

Here, gimmicks and hommages displace the honesty and intimacy of "El Norte," a richly ethnic film about Guatemalan émigrés. Nava, half-Mexican, half-Basque, shakes the family tree again for this movie. But for all the ethnicity here, he might as well have set it in Dusseldorf.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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