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`REUNION’ DOESN’T FIT THE HOLIDAY MOLD

SHARE `REUNION’ DOESN’T FIT THE HOLIDAY MOLD

"Reunion" (Sunday, 8 p.m., Ch. 5) is a well-produced telemovie, skillfully directed by Lee Grant and starring three of the better actors working in TV - Marlo Thomas, Peter Strauss and Frances Sternhagen.

But the story the movie tells, based on Linda Grey Sexton's novel "Points of Light," is so disturbing and almost reprehensible at points that the movie is to be avoided.CBS is promoting this as a Christmas movie, but it's actually more fitting to Halloween.

Thomas stars as Jessie Yates, the wife of a New England farmer and the mother of three. She's particularly devoted to her 5-year-old son Jamie (Matthew Kelly), almost at the expense of her husband (Peter Strauss) and her two daughters, including Jamie's twin sister, Meggie.

When Jamie dies in a tragic accident, Jessie is distraught. Worse yet, she soon begins imagining that Jamie has returned to the family farm.

Doesn't exactly sound like a Christmas tale, does it? But it gets far worse.

(At the risk of giving away more of the plot than usual, I'm going to discuss several plot points in the following paragraphs. If you plan to watch "Reunion," you may want to skip the rest of this review.)

CBS has made no secret of the fact that the young boy dies in this movie. So it's nothing but blatant manipulation - almost horror-movie style - when the child is nearly killed in two incidents early in the movie. Yes, it wrenches at the emotions of the audience, but not through empathy but through toying with those emotions.

The accident that kills the boy is utterly horrifying - more so because it's the sort of thing that could happen in any home, not the sort of fantasy violence you'd see in an action movie.

Both parents blame themselves, and the raw emotions portrayed by Thomas are tough to watch.

If you're expecting to see an uplifting Christmas movie it may come as a shock to see Thomas wailing as she tries to revive her dead 5 year old.

If this tragedy had led to something good - some sort of strengthening and understanding among the remaining family members - "Reunion" might have been worth something. But it doesn't, and the movie isn't worth much.

What we see is the "ghost" of Jamie encouraging his mother to commit suicide and join him in death.

And it's not just that Jessie believes her dead son has come back to her, it's that her belief actually creates situations in which she endangers the lives of other members of her family.

The movie's worst sin comes at the climax. Jessie decides not only to kill herself, but her young daughter as well so the two of them can join Jamie. She actually begins the process of this murder/suicide.

But, she suddenly snaps out of it, takes the girl home and the whole family celebrates a wonderful Christmas together.

That's right - this dangerously unbalanced woman who nearly kills her 5-year-old daughter as well as herself suddenly recovers her lost sanity and it's time for a nice, old-fashioned family Christmas.

This is what CBS is promoting by telling viewers to "Share a holiday miracle with your family."

Hopefully, your family has something a great deal better to do than waste its time on "Reunion."