Two TV movies dealing with sensitive and potentially affecting material prove plodding emotional zombies tonight: "All God's Children," an ABC movie at 9 on Channel 7, and "Confessions of a Lady Cop," which inauspiciously concludes NBC's otherwise noteworthy "Police Story" series, at 9 on Channel 4.
"All God's Children" clumsily attempts to affix trumped-up melodrama onto a tedious and meandering lecture about the issue of forced busing. William Blinn's script is one of those TV specialties that dance all over a hot topic without ever really facing up to it in any useful or meaningful way.
One might be led to expect a sociodramatic study of a community struggling with the prospect of forced busing to achieve integration and how this brings out the best or the worst in the citzenry -- something along the line of Reginald Rose's landmark TV play "Black Sunday."
But instead, the writer, and director Jerry Thorpe, throw a flaming monkey wrench into the story to give it spurious, attention-getting action. It opens with the prankish theft of a school bus by two 16-year-old friends, one black and one white, on the eve of the first busing day. The brakes malfunction and the bus plunges off a cliff, freezing in mid-air like the hotrods, and jalopies on "The Dukes of Hazzard."
Then the story flashes back to show how the incident and the busing order came about. Occasionally we rejoin the anxious parents and the judge who ordered the busing as they mope through a long night at the police station waiting to see which boy died in the crash and which survived -- waiting, as a cop delicately puts it, for the "results on the remains."
Most of the film is given over to exchanges of guilt and recrimination and anguished soul-searching that sounds much too didactic and very unconvincing. As the troubled but wildly fair-minded judge who orders the busing, Richard Widmark is occasionally commanding and stalwart, but when the script reveals, midway through the picture, that he is terminally ill, it's one hokey poke too many.
That Karen Black plays the lady cop in "Confessions" impedes the credibility of NBC's film no end. Black is one of our most watchable awful actresses; she reached a peak of heart-melting vulnerability very early in her career in "Five Easy Pieces," and she seems ill-suited and too-fashionably outfitted for the lady cop she plays on "Police Story."
The Mark Rodgers script strings together a series of incidents that supposedly contribute to her near-breakdown and sudden rejuvenation. Whatever points might have been made about the particular problems involed in being a woman and a police officer somehow never quite get said; instead, Black bats her fluffy eyelashes through an extramarital affair, the rigors of trailing pimps, and an all too predictable suicide attempt.
It isn't terrible -- just stubbornly remote and, as directed by the usually reliable Lee H. Katzin, so slow you could scream. With "Lady Cop," "Police Story," which began as a weekly series in 1973 and later became an umbrella for two-hour movies, retires from active duty. Producer David Gerber's long-running and often hard-hitting program will be remembered for much better installments than this one.