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'BOYS' HAS LOTS OF TALENT, BUT CAST SELDOM CLICKS.

Byline: Ray Richmond Daily News Television Critic

The chief pitfall in films that depict the mentally disabled is the struggle to steer clear of caricature, a problem that is never quite overcome in Sunday's Hallmark Hall of Fame drama "The Boys Next Door," 9 p.m. on KCBS (Channel 2).

Based on an off-Broadway play by Tom Griffin, the film brings a rich lode of acting talent to the screen but is too taken with its own sense of poignance to work as more than an occasionally moving seriocomic trifle.

The basic story is about four high-functioning men with mental handicaps who live in a group home under the close supervision of a too-caring social worker named Jack (good work by Tony Goldwyn).

There is Norman (Nathan Lane), a manic-depressive with an obsession for doughnuts (shades of Homer Simpson); Lucien (Courtney B. Vance), a sweet innocent with severe developmental problems; Arnold (Michael Jeter), a hypersensitive soul who shops compulsively; and Barry (Robert Sean Leonard), a tortured schizophrenic.

In the story, Jack is so devoted to the welfare of the boys that it's weighing on his marriage. To save it, he decides to go into car leasing and leave the boys behind. But his conflict is never fleshed out in the film. It's almost a snap judgement and, as such, unrealistic.

"The Boys Next Door" is more interested in zeroing in on the interplay between the boys, and too often their behavior approaches unintentional parody. An exception to that is Leonard's wonderful portrayal of Barry, which steals the film. He makes us feel his pain at being so emotionally limited.

Effective, too, is Mare Winningham as Sheila, a mentally disabled woman whom Norman is courting with irresistible naivete.

But the rest of the cast members, particularly Lane, rarely click, going through their lampoonish paces without making the humanity and charm of their characters come to life.

The result is a film that's high on sensitivity but low on genuine sentiment. "The Boys Next Door" is neither particularly funny nor tragic, and only intermittently entertaining.

THE FACTS

The film: "The Boys Next Door."

When: 9 p.m. Sunday.

Channel: KCBS (Channel 2).

Starring: Nathan Lane, Michael Jeter, Tony Goldwyn, Robert Sean Leonard, Courtney B. Vance and Mare Winningham.

Our rating: C+

CAPTION(S):

PHOTO

Photo "The Boys Next Door" stars Mare Winningham, center, as the girl next door, and, clockwise from top, Nathan Lane, Courtney B. Vance, Michael Jeter and Robert Sean Leonard.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Television Program Review
Date:Feb 3, 1996
Words:411
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