Sometimes it is better not to resist the lure of the obvious. Thus NBC's Sunday Night Movie, "Love Is Forever," just begs to be re-titled "Love Takes Forever," particularly since the horrible blundering thing is three hours long and so thoroughly and definitively unfelt that its photographic images seem barely to exist. Even in television terms, this is a waltz of robots.
"Forever," at 8 p.m. Sunday on Channel 4, is, the credits say, "A Hall Bartlett Film" produced by Hall Bartlett and written and directed by Hall Bartlett. In a rather laughable excuse for a contretemps, Bartlett and Michael Landon, star of the film, have tangled over auteur's rights to this picture in TV Guide and elsewhere. The spat is more interesting than the film, such a dismally listless romance that you'd think people would be trying to disown it rather than take credit.
Landon plays John Everingham, who really was the last Western journalist in Indochina in the late '70s and who, in this picture, falls limply in love with a young Laotian Communist played by Indonesian actress Moira Chen, who is very beautiful but, like so many of the actresses sulking across the screen these days, less expressive than ceramic tile. The way Bartlett wrote and directed Zee Big Affair, it plays like a Club Med ad in Travel and Leisure.
"You are the gentlest man I have ever known," the woman tells him as they prepare to pillow. "To be gentle is to be the strongest of men." Ah, the wisdom of the Orient! Will it never cease?
But there are dirty politics afoot to befoul this idyll. Everingham forces his lover to see the Pathet Lao for the dirty Commies that they are, particularly the sinister, Soviet-trained general who heads the secret police. Even though he's the heavy--the modern-day equivalent of the Richard Loo villain in the anti-Japanese American war movies of the '40s (though he does not quite call Everingham "Yankee dog")--Jurgen Prochnow, a German actor, evokes one's empathy simply because he's the only one on the premises with anything that passes for presence.
The general finally throws Everingham in jail, where the prisoner must eat icky-icky white stuff and wake to find big yechy-yechy cockroaches crawling all over him. Exiled, he plans to return and rescue his lady love with the help of a shrieking cliche' of a British sea captain played by Edward Woodward and a very pretty woman in a wet green bathing suit who turns out to be Priscilla Presley in her movie debut, looking like a sexier Lady Di and escaping this disaster with dignity intact. She has possibilities.
Bartlett crawls from cliche' to cliche', including a Romance Montage (to, for some daffy reason, the old torcher "I Got It Bad, And That Ain't Good," and it ain't), in which Landon in his elaborate coiffure and Chen with her Interview Magazine sheen appear to be in some other galaxy from ours, and one you would only want to visit should they stop making Valium. Later, there is a Training Montage, a la the "Rocky" trilogy, with Woodward yelling such incentives to Landon as "I wanna see you sweat!" and "Come on--you call that running?"
The big rescue finale is unintentionally funny because Bartlett keeps cutting to closeups of Chen in her scuba mask with her eyes popping big as kumquats. One can imagine her and Landon thinking to themselves, "How will I ever get my hair to behave after this?" Such is the stuff of TV-movie drama as offered by the National Beanbagging Company. Unfit, sez I, for human consumption.