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By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 15, 1991


Martin Sheen
Charlie Sheen;
Martin Sheen;
Larry Fishburne;
Michael Beach;
Ramon Estevez
adult language and subject matter

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"Cadence" might once have been pertinent, revolutionary or politically correct, but it's definitely out of step with the times. A sluggish comedy of race relations from the sappy Sheens, it's instant fodder for "In Living Color's" satirical Wayans.

Activist-actor turned activist-director Martin Sheen makes his debut behind the camera in this clumsy, formulaic Army drama by Dennis Shryack. The writer first brought his screenplay to Sheen 15 years ago, so it is already something of a relic. Set in 1963, it's the story of Pvt. Bean (Charlie Sheen), a defiant white loner who learns teamwork from fellow inmates in the Army brig -- a group of five blacks known as the Soul Patrol.

After tangling with the stockade commander (Martin Sheen), your standard issue bigoted bullying hardnose, Bean draws further enmity by befriending the five-man Patrol headed by Stokes (Larry Fishburne), a streetwise type who tames the renegade private and eases him into the fun-loving, prideful group. Bean's assimilation is complete when he finally learns the Patrol's patented "Stockade Shuffle," a lively march routine set to Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang."

It's a crowd-pleasing montage, but it seems to come right out of "Hollywood Shuffle," a parody on the industry's treatment of black actors. Michael Beach, a Juilliard-trained prep school grad, seems another case in point in the role of a Harlem boxer, Webb, who blackens Bean's eye and steals his watch. Bean befriends Webb by beating him at a game of basketball -- "whipped by a one-eyed white boy," observes one of the other brothers -- and their bond is never again broken.

Other members of the cast include John Toles-Bey as the suave narcissist of the group, Blu Mankuma as the poetry-loving intellectual and Harry Stewart as the pivotal character Sweetbread, a gentle gospel singer who becomes a victim of the commander's insanity and violence. And a third Sheen, Ramon Estevez, has a role as the commander's sycophantic right-hand man.

"Cadence" has its rare, energetic moments, as when one of the soldiers dreams he's turned white. "I started clapping on one and three, listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival and chasing after women with flat {butts}." What it has most of though is Martin Sheen's ham-fisted direction. He doesn't just milk scenes for drama, he dries up the cow.

"Cadence" is rated PG-13 for adult language and subject matter.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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