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This movie won Oscars for Best Picture; Director (Barry Levinson); Actor (Dustin Hoffman); and Original Screenplay.

‘Rain Man’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 16, 1988

"Rain Man" is a wispy offering from director Barry Levinson, actor Tom Cruise and screenwriters Ronald Bass and Barry Morrow. Which reduces Dustin Hoffman's sterling performance to little more than a silver lining.

As autistic savant Raymond Babbitt, Hoffman goes beyond the easy-Oscar standards reserved for "mentally disadvantaged." His stiffened walk (a subtle spin on Ratso's "Midnight Cowboy" gait), cocked head, and ceaseless patter is brilliantly researched and realized.

" 'Course it's three minutes to Judge Wapner," says this walking human almanac, familiar with "The People's Court," baseball stats, airline disaster dates, every mathematical square root and the dining schedule in his special-care institution. "Yeaaah, Tuesday, we have pancakes," he says, eyes averted. " 'Course I don't have my toothpicks."

Hoffman blows costar Cruise right off the screen. As Raymond's unwitting brother Charlie Babbitt, Cruise is a car wheeler-dealer who's furious that his estranged, dearly departed father left $3 million to some nut.

Likable as he is, Cruise confuses spunk for performance. It was appropriate next to Kelly McGillis in "Top Gun" and opposite Paul Newman in "The Color of Money." But next to Hoffman, it becomes something out of a beer commercial. Instead of playing off or with Hoffman (a greenhorn's smartest strategy), Cruise tends to play at him, flailing and swearing like a spoiled, grounded pilot in "Top Gun II."

Levinson made two great comedies, "Diner" and "Tin Men," before phoning in the abysmal "Young Sherlock Holmes" and garnering undeserved glory -- courtesy of Robert Redford and Robin Williams -- for "The Natural" and "Good Morning, Vietnam." He has never gotten in close to people. It becomes apparent in this subtle character encounter -- right when he's needed most.

Screenwriter Bass gave you the spirited, lively "Black Widow" but also the unweeded "Gardens of Stone." He and cowriter Barry Morrow pollute "Rain Man's" gentle atmosphere with crazy shifts from fraternal bonding to a road-movie trip across America, to a farcical lost weekend in Las Vegas, then back to the bonding again. And lost in all this is an unsatisfying relationship between Cruise and girlfriend Valeria Golino, who at least knows when to leave an affair with dignity.

"Rain Man" is far from a washout but you can't help feeling all those missed opportunities raining down on you.

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