In the middle of July, anything icy is likely to taste good. Hence the appeal of NBC's new movie "C.A.T. Squad," airing tomorrow night at 9 on Channel 4. The film squirts much-needed juice into a tired formula and proves consistently if humorlessly refreshing.
"C.A.T." stands for Counter Assault Tactical and, indeed, this is yet another adventure story of a crack, "elite" team of trouble-shooters and, more to the point, terrorist shooters. What elevates it beyond the mundane is the direction of William Friedkin, who has piloted such big-screen rocket rides as "The French Connection" and "The Exorcist."
A TV-movie budget doesn't allow for wild binges of stylization, but Friedkin brings knowing kinetic instincts to such sequences as one in which a terrorist is chased about a motel parking lot (supposedly in Atlantic City) and engaged in a shoot-out. As he proved recently with the excessively cold-blooded "To Live and Die in L.A.," Friedkin still knows how to get plenty of mileage when he steps on the gas.
Otherwise, he invests the film with a sobriety that borders on pretentiousness, very nearly one-upping the glum, hyper-serious antics of Crockett and Tubbs on "Miami Vice." There is no way the grumpy old C.A.T. Squad might be mistaken for the fun-loving A-Team, although "Squad" is the pilot for a prospective NBC series.
Leader of the team, which is pursuing a sinister assassin 'cross the continents, is solid John "Doc" Burkholder, played by Joseph Cortese, an actor with a striking physical resemblance to CBS News producer George Crile, of documentary and libel suit fame. sw,-1 sk,1 ld,10 Others in the group include the no-nonsense Nikki Pappas (Patricia Charbonneau) and the less-than-no-nonsense Bud Raines (Steven W. James), a tall black man with one deaf son.
Their nemesis is formidable: Edwin Velez as a cunning international hit man with a briefcase that doubles as an automatic weapon. Friedkin sustains a pervasive aura of menace, even through bluntly padded sequences like one detailing how to fake a passport. Scenes supposedly set in Washington, one at the Shoreham Hotel, were obviously filmed elsewhere, apparently Montreal.
But Mexico is really Mexico, and the showdown there with the terrorist includes some artful pursuit not unlike that practiced by Gene Hackman in "Connection." The film has a lush, sleek look and benefits greatly from a background musical score by that inspired eccentric Ennio Morricone. There are no rock video sequences. Allah be praised.
Gerald Petievich wrote the script, which includes plenty of somber encounters among the squad members, who are heavy hearted but certainly not bleeding hearted. Indeed, the team is said to perform work made necessary by the fumblings of "Ivy League coneheads" who presumably don't know how to deal with terrorist threats. The politics of "C.A.T. Squad" are very '80s, which is to say, very '50s.
But the movie is enjoyably slick, hip and Frusen-Gladje cool. 'Robert Klein'
"Robert Klein on Broadway" delighted the heck out of me, but I am an unabashed Robert Klein fan. In his "On Location" special, premiering on Home Box Office at 10 tonight, the rapid-fire comedian and sardonic social commentator whirls hilariously through a haystack of topics that range from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to Annette Funicello ("She knew who she was"), and he's severely funny on most of them.
A more or less one-man show taped at the Nederlander Theater in New York, "Broadway" opens with amusingly faked backstage scenes, including auditions for the lead role (it occurs to Klein in a brilliant flash that perhaps he should, after all, play himself) and rehearsals by a dutiful ticket taker and obliging usher.
In performance, Klein makes jokes at the expense of, and bull's- eye comic observations about, New York City, Kurt Waldheim, speed reading, Wrestlemania, tuna, Dick Clark, TV evangelists, talk shows, home computers, Sprint, airlines, jurisprudence, Civil War chess sets and the all-encompassing banality of American commercial advertising.
Videocassette piracy is a federal crime, Klein notes early in his long harangue -- one "approximately equal in severity to tearing the tag off your mattress." He is a master of lunatic exaggerations that have firm foundations in sanity.
Klein has a dour, flabby appearance, almost funereal in a black suit (despite the red socks), and he's always looked like someone who didn't really want to be a comedian, someone whom the muse not so much visited as mugged. Reluctant though he is, Klein remains a dependable source of savvy satire.
Director Thomas Schlamme had a hard time keeping up with Klein's nervous pacing across the stage, but he had the good sense to include among the audience reaction shots several that show pretty girls laughing. We don't wonder why -- why they're included, or why they're in stitches. 'Apology'
In-person entertainment specials like Robert Klein's latest are the kind of original programming that Home Box Office does best. Miserably nasty and vapid films like "Apology," which premieres tomorrow night at 9, are what HBO does worst. HBO has changed the umbrella title of its original movies from "Premiere Films" to "HBO Pictures," but it looks as though it's still going to be a parade of motley clunkers.
"Apology" beseeches our concern on behalf of a patently unsympathetic heroine, a smug and foolish Manhattan artist played by Lesley Ann Warren, who obstructs justice on a whim and then shrieks at the consequences. She is constructing an art piece incorporating anonymous taped phone "confessions" solicited by posters. One night a caller confesses to murder. She couldn't care less.
The murders, in the pointlessly perverse script by Mark Medoff, are particularly gross. A deranged psychotic is killing and castrating homosexual men. The detail is included for purely lurid purposes, since it has no bearing whatsoever on the film's rickety excuse for a plot -- itself a rickety excuse for a showdown with the psycho at the art gallery.
Anyone who can't see that coming hasn't been to a horror movie in the last two or three hundred years.
A grim and emaciated Peter Weller plays a police detective who tolerates insufferable indifference on the part of the artist and then, naturally, sleeps with her. Playwright Harvey Fierstein is squandered in a ludicrous cameo as a philosophical bum squatting on Warren's doorstep. A few establishing shots of Manhattan at the outset try to hide the fact, obvious later, that nearly the whole thing was shot in Toronto.
It would be too obvious, perhaps, to say HBO may owe its subscribers an apology but that it owes nobody an "Apology." Films like this suggest that a suitable HBO slogan would be "At HBO, We Don't Just Show You Bad Movies. We Make Our Own." 'King Kong'
Considering that it is merely a one-hour promo for the Universal Studios Tour and Universal movies, "King Kong! The Living Legend," a syndicated special at 8 tomorrow night on Channel 5, is pretty entertaining. The reason is not the presence of the great ape so much as it is the presence of the great jape, Jonathan Winters.
A reliable source of mischief in television's vast toy box for years and years (and a few months beyond even that), Winters trundles around the Universal lot as tour guide for a lavish protracted plug. "King Kong" is the latest exhibit on the Universal tour, and the hour builds to a sequence of tourists in a "Glamor-Tram" beholding the beguiling wonder for themselves.
The rest of the hour is filled up with a history of the "King Kong" legend and featurettes about other landmarks of cinema fantastica. Rick Baker, who plopped about in a 50-pound ape suit for the 1976 "Kong" remake, concedes, "You have to be nuts to do it." Film historian Ron Haver, discussing the original 1933 classic, marvels that an 18-inch model of a gorilla grew up to become "one of the mythic figures of 20th century civilization."
Ah, but our man Jonathan is pretty mythic himself. Whether playing a bossy, bulbous sheriff, or fishing for the mechanical shark from "Jaws," or even just introducing Anthony Perkins for a plug-within-a-plug for "Psycho III," Winters is still a loony joy. He helps make this movie promo more enjoyable than a good many movies are.