Character after character in "The Great Wallendas," an NBC movie Sunday night at 7 on Channel 4, tells old papa Karl Wallenda that he is "crazy" to try the seven-person pyramid on the high-wire again after two people were killed and another permanently disabled in a previous attempt.
And you know, they may have something of a point there.
Yet Jan Hartman's screenplay maintains that Wallenda is a great hero and visionary because he succeeds in luring the family back up into the rafters and pulling the trick off. The message is foolhardy and the movie foolish.
It's no pleasure to see producer Daniel Wilson and director Larry Elikann fall flat on their faces, because the team did a number of affecting "Afterschool Specials" for ABC. But this tale, based on the true Wallenda story, is one of the most hapless excuses for an inspirational tract in years. The romance of derring-do is one thing exercise in gross futility are another.
The Wallendas, we are told, recreated their famous pyramid for a documentary made about the family and shown on television. For "The Great Wallendas," they recreated the recreation for a movie that is partly about the making of the documentary. Somewhere the gerbil of truth is running around on his little playwheel and becoming not only dizzy but exhausted.
The program invities hoots instead of gasps anyway, partly because Lloyd Bridges, as Papa Wallenda, affects an accent cripplingly similar to that of Sid Caesar's old German professor - the daft one Carl Reiner used to interview so patiently in front of the curtain.
So the Wallendas will be up there rehearsing the darned old pyramid and suddenly you hear Bridges say, "Poosh a little in de back" and "Keep dat step," and it's unfortunately funny. Meanwhile, Mama runs around on the ground saying, "Oh, why can't he lay tiles in America the way he used to do in Germany?"
But the Wallendas want to be "stars." in the word of one of them, and the film tells us this is a fine thing to want to be. And Zo, after the accident, when the disabled boy suggests that he might be able to do a high-wire act in his wheelchair, we're supposed to find this laudably courageous and gallant.