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'1969' : (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 18, 1988

"1969" has rolled around again, but don't get out those love beads quite yet. This is a buffered acid flashback, a scattered, synthetic attempt at evoking '60s spirit with the brat pack sitting in for the flower people.

Kiefer Sutherland and Robert Downey Jr. costar as Scott and Ralph, lifelong friends who are caught up in the life and death issues of the Vietnam decade. Though they're wearing bell-bottoms and hair down to here, down to there, it's clear the packers aren't exactly groovin'. As the draft-dodging, drug-abusing Ralph, Downey is less hippie than psychedelic yuppie. Sutherland, shaggy-haired, scholarly and seductive -- an I-hear-you kind of guy -- is fairly persuasive as the petulant pacifist Scott.

When the two college freshmen hitchhike home for Easter break, they find their small Maryland town, an American microcosm, divided by the war. "What brings you girls down here?" asks Scott's father Cliff (Bruce Dern), a burr-headed conservative who takes issue with his son's politics as well as his hairdo. Cliff adores his older son Alden (Christopher Wynne), a Marine who apprehensively ships out for Vietnam. "You give 'em hell, butch," says dad.

Scott, a sour sibling, has no sympathy for his brother (though short-lived, the movie's most sympathetic character) and regularly clashes with his hawk father. His mother Jessie (Mariette Hartley) loves all her "little men" and numbs herself to the discord among them, till tragedy forces her to take a stand. Right on, says Scott.

Meanwhile, Ralph flunks out of college, his sister (Winona Ryder) falls in love with Scott, and their mom Ev (Joanna Cassidy) has an affair with Cliff. It's "War and Peace," the soap opera.

"1969," the directorial debut of Ernest Thompson, is an aimless drama, its purpose and promise lost in a thicket of false endings and a fog of nostalgia. Thompson, who wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for "On Golden Pond," claims autobiographical roots for the work, which must be, like, wow, a real bummer for him.

1969 is rated R for profanity

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