Hines laces up director's shoes

His 'Red Sneakers' fable is charming and funny; quirky 'Cold Climate' delights

Be careful what you wish for, goes the old aphorism: You just might get it.

That's what happens to the young hero of The Red Sneakers, a Showtime Original Picture for All Ages (Feb. 10, 8-10 p.m.), and what he learns is that dreams are made of the stuff of real life. It's actor-dancer Gregory Hines' directorial debut, and the end result bodes well for his future projects.

The family picture concerns a charming and funny bright kid named Reggie Reynolds (Dempsey Pappion), who loves his mom and (surprise) his little sister.

He's a gifted math student, but all he wants is to be a basketball champ. Unfortunately, his game is so poor that he can't even make the team. Taunted by the talented Roscoe, he finds himself down in the dumps, literally, when he meets a junkyard owner with a twinkle in his eye. Zeke (Mr. Hines) gives Reggie a pair of red sneakers with a special talent of their own.

Suddenly, Reggie is shooting like a pro. In fact, he doesn't really need the rest of the team. But his sudden success doesn't sit well with Reggie himself. And when his sneakers disappear before the big game, Reggie suddenly realizes that his own genuine gifts can help others.

Mr. Hines was looking for a directing project when Showtime sent him the "Red Sneakers" script for its first-time director's showcase.

"I got the script, and I related to it," Hines says in a recent interview. "I enjoyed it. I felt like I could do it. Even though I was a mediocre basketball player, I understand the game. And I understand what it means to be a parent and have a child who goes through the self-image problems all kids go through."

There were so many aspects of the story that would be enriched by the prospect of the family watching it and enjoying it, he says. He liked the fact that the brother-sister relationship is not the usual clich├ęd bicker-fest.

"Even the actors were happy they weren't bickering all the time," he says. "They felt good about the fact that Reggie's sister is the only one he can confide in, and he felt for his sister when she was being teased by the other girls about dancing."

But the real issue for Hines is that too many kids dream about a life in sports and don't nurture their real strengths.

"I'm well aware that in our culture today there are a lot of young boys for whom the dream of getting a college scholarship and going to the NBA is ultimately a negative - very few people ever get that far," he says.

What kids need to do is work with what they have, he says, and have faith in themselves and their talents. If they love basketball and want to play, great. But they still have to look at what their gifts are.

"In our film, Reggie's true gift is math," Hines says. "He was getting positive feedback from his family, from his teachers, and even colleges. But he wanted to be a basketball star and felt that he could be popular and follow that dream. On the other side of the coin, Roscoe needs that basketball scholarship just to go to college to have a better life."

Hines plays the magical Zeke with a certain glee. Zeke is a wizard: He helps people find out things they already know, Hines says. Zeke wasn't going to tell Reggie he shouldn't play basketball: He presented him with the opportunity to see for himself what he really wanted.

Zeke gave Hines a gift, too.

"I do have dreams about directing a feature film that I star in, and this was an opportunity for me to direct something and be in it without a huge responsibility as an actor," he says.

* * *

The families depicted in Masterpiece Theatre's Love in a Cold Climate (Feb. 11 and 18, 9-10:30 p.m.), based on Nancy Mitford's descriptions of her own eccentric family, are upper-crust and mostly just plain nuts. They are a charming, annoying, and headstrong lot, but well-adjusted they are not.

Particularly delightful is Alan Bates as a huffing, puffing snob who thinks an old established family with a German last name must still be "foreigners." But when his beautiful daughter, Linda, marries the "foreign" banker against his will, he forgives her.

Not so lucky is her friend Polly, who hates her mother so much she marries Mom's boyfriend. His name is Boy Dougdale. Alas, he is gay. So Polly runs off with another man, but not before her mother disinherits her. Linda's marriage likewise dissolves. Later, she marries a communist, and that doesn't work either. At last, she finds the love of her life just as World War II breaks out.

While pretty Polly and darling Linda have their unhappy adventures with men, the narrator, their dearest friend Fanny (Rosamund Pike captures the essence of knowing innocence) marries happily and witnesses the misfortunes of her friends with such tender compassion that she manifests most of the sanity of the whole story. And that is finally why this film matters. It is Fanny with whom we identify. And it is Fanny in all her guileless affection that makes these troubled friends and family worth knowing. Through her eyes, they are all fabulously interesting and oh so human.

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