"If you're waitin' on me," surly David Dalton snarls at a ruffian, "you're goin' backwards." What does that mean, I wonder? Whatever it means, it sure sounds tough -- and tough in the inscrutable and bellicost way today's macho screen heros like to sound.
Dalton, a peripatetic Vietnam vet, isn't just macho, he's mystic-macho, and so each act of "Dalton: Code of Vengeance II," the NBC Sunday night movie at 9 on Channel 4, begins with Dalton doing spooky Asiatic dance moves silhouetted against a river, while on the sound track, accompanied by flute, he recites such profundities of philosophy as "Happiness is the supreme goal. Few find it. Thus, anger. Then man's inhumanity to man makes thousands mourn."
Part "Kung Fu", part "First Blood" and even part "Southern Comfort," since it includes a long survival session in a swamp, the movie, sequel to last June's first "Dalton" film, stops dead during those voice-over meditations, but otherwise is brisk, brash pulp, written by Luther Murdoch and Aiken Woodruff in cryptic, comic-book blurts. Director Alan Smithee shows more style than most TV movie directors get away with, and the editing has a way of keeping one playfully on edge.
In several scenes, Smithee seems to be avoiding showing who's delivering the dialogue, which is either a personal quirk of his or was designed to cover up some post-production rewrites. But it contributes to a slightly dreamlike, enticingly offbeat aura either way.
Dalton, played by Tommy Lee Jones look-alike Charles Taylor, moseys into town to help the wife and son of a former 'Nam buddy who appears to have gone off the deep end and now spends his time looking for an even deeper one. He keeps company with a mangy platoon of lowlife, ragtag, dipsy-doodle paramilitarists who want to blow up parades and football games and blame the attacks on terrorists.
"The Major," as he is known, a man with a heap o' pain, is played forcefully by Donnelly Rhodes. Even in this hyped and slightly silly context, Rhodes registers some affecting angst. His wife, played by Karen Landry, is the target of a harassment campaign designed to wrest away her son, whom the major, after 10 years away as a soldier of fortune, want to reclaim.
In addition, a feisty lawyer, puckishly played by Belinda Montgomery, stands up to the rednecks and slaps them with subpoenas. When they decide to put the muscle on her, it takes four of them to do it. The curs!
And speaking of curs, Dalton soon makes a companion of a large white dog, who instantly becomes his spiritual partner. Indeed, it's hard to tell who is the guru and who the disciple. At any rate, they communicate. Prowling the woods for a troublemaker, the dog says "Woof, woof woof" and Dalton replies, "I smell him, too."
Dalton's moody credo is a combination of double talk and popthink. "The treatest morality is friendship," he says early on. "Friendship is the most sacred of all moral bonds." Then later he says, "You are your greatest friend." It may sound slightly muddled, but it probably helps explain why Dalton is still single.
'Trapped in Silence' "Trapped in Silence," the CBS Sunday night movie at 9 on Channel 9, appears at first encounter to be just another in the "Miracle Worker" genre. The phrase "miracle worker" is in fact used in one of the first scenes. But this story of how a psychologist pulls a mute boy out of his isolation has twists and turns that one might not expect.
Marsha Mason, keeping her tears in check for the most part plays the psychologist who agrees to take on the case of Kevin Richter, 16 going on 17, even though previous attempts to get a word out of him have been unsuccessful. He lurks under tables, refuses to bathe, fears certain pieces of furniture and is capable of throwing violent tantrums on spurs of moments.
Pat A. Victor's screenplay, based oned on a book (though not a case study) by psychologist Torey Hayden, doesn't romanticize mental illness. Kevin is shown to be not only enigmatically disturbed, but dangerous and devious, a pain in the neck. That part is superbly played by Kiefer Sutherland, a disarming miniature of his actor-father Donald.
Sutherland has been given long monologues that detail the nightmarish child abuse he and his sisters suffered at the hands of their stepfather, who the psychologist comes to realize was "a brutal, vicious degenerate." Sutherland makes the incidents more vivid and chilling than they might have been if dramatized on the screen.
But the climactic scene, in which the boy describes how the stepfather attacked one of his sisters fatally, is perhaps to nightmarish and too graphically described, replete as it is with extremely gory details. "Silence" could be excessively frightening for young children.
The film is about the psychologist's patience, and details her battles with medical bureaucrats who want to give up on the boy. It's also a detective story, as she sorts through clues to the boy's violence and withdrawal.
And there is one more tale being told -- that of the woman's relationship with another psychologist, a good friend, who is played by Ron Silver, one of the most versatile, and generous, actors around. Silver and Mason get a bit too perkily dear during some of their scenes together, but one's concern for them accumulates nicely, and an unforeseen plot turn involving Silver's character gives the film one more affecting poignant layer.
As directed by Michael Tuchner, "Trapped in Silence" transcends the pat uplifter genre into which it might have been lumped. Mason gives a solid, thoughtful performance, but it's likely to be the two men in her life that you remember.