short takes (2)

* Night Crossing is based on the true story of two East German families who tried to escape from their country by hot-air balloon. It's a fascinating subject, but it has been poorly handled by filmmaker Delbert Mann, who directed it for Walt Disney Productions. Though the cast includes such talented performers as John Hurt and Jane Alexander, the screenplay sounds stilted and contrived much of the time, and the plot never generates much real suspense.More important, the families' reasons for escape are never made manifest on the screen. There's a lot of vague talk about how bad things are in East Germany, but the people seem to live comfortable lives, and have all the freedom they need to withdraw scads of money from their bank accounts and drive their illicit balloon into the country for experiments and tests. The biggest worry is whether the gossipy old lady down the street will snitch on them for keeping strange hours and taking off from work. This is not to minimize allegedly awful conditions in East Germany. But since the movie is all talk and no evidence, young people who see it may wonder what the fuss is all about. Though the Disney studio has been laboring heroically to broaden and deepen its audience, including older folks as well as kids, it looks like international affairs -- even ''Swiss Family'' versions like this - are still beyond its grasp

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