Few thought Tom Cruise could pull it off when he was cast as an embittered, paralyzed Vietnam vet in Oliver Stone's "Born On the Fourth of July" (11 p.m.-2 a.m., USA), and he must have taken special delight in proving them wrong.
Cruise is ornery, selfish, mean and stubborn as Ron Kovic, who started his soldier's life as gung-ho as any recruit and ended it in a wheelchair, bitter about his body's failure and what he viewed as his government's failure to justify its involvement in Vietnam. The scene where he and Willem Dafoe, both paralyzed vets determined to drink themselves into oblivion, slug it out on a Mexico back street may be hard to watch, but it vividly captures their despair.
As always, Stone tends to use a bludgeon when a scalpel would do; he doesn't know the meaning of the word "underplay." Still, Cruise is a marvel, and having one of Hollywood's most handsome and sexy actors play against type is the kind of decision that can make good movies great.
Pub Date: 7/03/97