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'Light of Day' (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 06, 1987

When Bruce Springsteen "borrowed" the original title "Born in the U.S.A.," he got the best of the working-class rock drama "Light of Day." To atone, he wrote a new title song for writer-director Paul Schrader's listless look at life on the assembly line.

Schrader opens this rock 'n' roil story with a sullen sweep of sooty morning along Cleveland's industrial-strength skyline. By night, his camera prowls the smokestack town's seedy bars, where boys in blue-collar bands play Rust Belt rock 'n' roll. The soundtrack, a ragged one recorded live, features actual performances by Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett, as the brother and sister who lead the struggling, hard-rocking Barbusters.

Jett, the real-life rock star, debuts on screen as the rebellious Patti, and Fox tries his first serious role as sensitive-guy Joe. Disguised in floppy hair and earrings, Fox offers a capable, low-key performance opposite Jett's screechy, low-rent songstress. They don't relate, they don't look related and it also doesn't help that Jett speaks with a chemical-wasteland accent and Fox with a heartland MOR.

Nevermind that Mom (redheaded Gena Rowlands) clearly has been splashing in another gene pool and seems a touch too old and well-spoken to have mothered this mismatched brood. Disparate and distracted, the cast acts as though it can't wait for the lunch whistle. If this is Schrader's way of illustrating the futility of factory life, he succeeds only by his own futile example.

The Rasnick family lives in an attractive suburban split-level, with a living-room suite and plenty of major appliances. They even saved enough money to send Patti to college, but she got pregnant and dropped out to support Benji (Billy Sullivan), now a four-year-old who has become a pawn in the struggle between mother and daughter. It's a confusing mid-movie shift in what seemed to be a story about singing siblings.

Between Patti's appearances with a heavy metal band and Joe's moments with his surrogate son Benji, mother starts losing her memory. Tragedy is lurking. And we've got "Terms of Endearment," on overtime. Only nobody, but nobody, cares about these women, both as shallow as sheet cake.

Hailed for the stylishness of "Mishima," Schrader sheds the hot colors and exotic angles that gave his last movie its startling good looks. He condescends, presuming that a pressed-metal plant is inherently uglier than a roomful of corporate cubicles at IBM. For the most part, American movies concern the middle class, console the poor and celebrate the rich, and Schrader tried to pay blue-collar culture its due. He may have worked an honest day, but he didn't come up with an honest drama.

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