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A troubled kid from a broken home pairs up with a child who has AIDS, and the two go on a journey together. There's no getting around it - "The Cure" sounds like a TV-movie soap-opera-of-the-week - and it's not too far from that.

But thanks to convincing performances by Joseph Mazzello ("Jurassic Park") as Dexter, who has contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion, and Brad Renfro ("The Client") as Erik, who becomes Dexter's friend almost as an act of rebellion, the film occasionally rises above its weaknesses.Dexter's mother is tender, hard-working Linda (Annabella Scior-ra), who devotes herself to Dexter's welfare and welcomes Erik into her home. Erik's mother (Diana Scarwid), however, is hard-edged, ignorant Gail, who takes out her frustrations with her failed marriage on her son. She also orders him not to spend time with Dexter, fearing that he is communicable.

This is just what Erik needs to fuel his desire to make Dexter his friend, and the two begin their relationship by building mud forts, as anti-social Erik finds new ways to "kill" dolls and action figures.

As Erik begins to understand Dexter's illness, he talks him into experimenting with possible AIDS "cures." First, a variety of candy bars, which just make both boys sick. Then Erik boils leaves from various local plants for Dexter to drink - not a good idea, of course, since one is bound to be poisonous.

Later, when they read in a National Enquirer-type paper that a doctor in New Oreleans has an AIDS cure. But when they bring it to the attention of Dexter's mother, she, naturally, dismisses the story as fabricated. So, they hit the road for New Orleans, hoping to find the doctor and cure Dexter's illness.

"The Cure" is more of a series of anecdotes than a narrative story, and there are all kinds of contrived encounters that are meant to be amusing and charming, but which often feel like underdeveloped stereotypes.

In a way, movies like this are a cheat. Instead of dealing with real-life situations in a way that offers a sense of universality, they avoid the day-to-day struggle by embellishing unrealistic encounters.

I know, I know - it's only a movie. But a more compelling movie might be one that shows how real kids would deal with this kind of thing. As screenwriter Robert Kuhn and director Peter Horton (best known as an actor on TV's "thirtysomething" actor) would have it, they don't talk like real kids, they don't act like real kids . . . but then, most of the adults are Hollywoodized as well. And as the film winds down, scenes set in a hospital feel even more awkward and contrived.

Still, "The Cure" has its moments, and benefits immensely from the performances of Renfro, Mazzello, Sciorra and Scarwid, who are all excellent. For them this film will simply be a minor, if noble footnote in their careers.

"The Cure" is rated PG-13 for profanity, vulgarity and a nude Playboy photo.