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Goldie Hawn tries her luck as a director

You've got to wonder a bit about any made-for-television movie for which the major attraction is the director.

And that's exactly the case with TNT's "Hope" (tonight at 6, 8 and 10 p.m.) - the cable movie marks the directorial debut of Goldie Hawn.It's not a bad debut, but it's not a great one, either. Hawn's efforts are certainly more than adequate and - like just about every TNT movie - "Hope" is very nicely mounted, with plenty of money thrown into the production.

The problem that Hawn was unable to overcome is that Kerry Kennedy's script has major problems. It is so busy, so full of characters and secrets and background and plots trailing all over the place that the first half of the film is sort of like a group of unruly children racing all over the house.

Not surprisingly, "Hope" is Kennedy's first screenplay.

It's only in the second half of "Hope" that the narrative settles down enough for Hawn to take control.

The movie spans 10 days in the life of a 13-year-old girl living in the Deep South in 1962 - 10 days that also span the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Jena Malone stars as Lilly Kate Burns, a rather cantankerous and opinionated young girl. Not that her life has been easy - her father is dead and her mother suffered a stroke, leaving her a mute invalid.

Lilly lives with her racist Uncle Ray (J.T. Walsh) and her flighty Aunt Emma (Christine Lahti), who don't much approve of the girl.

Lilly is desperate to get out of her small Southern town, and pins her hopes on a dance scholarship to a school in New York City. She's sort of an oddball at school, but she does have a best friend - a rather odd boy named Billy October (Lee Norris) - who is her dance partner. And there's her boozy dance teacher, Muriel MacSwain (Catherine O'Hara).

There are scenes of sheer hysteria over the Cuban Missile Crisis, but - rather than being an effective backdrop for the story - that part of the story just seems to drop out of the sky every once in a while.

"Hope" is far more about race relations. When the town theater (owned by Uncle Ray) burns down, a young black boy is killed. And when Lilly discovers that there's a coverup, she must decide whether to tell the truth or keep the secret.

And there are just secrets galore. Lilly's mother, Maize (Mary Ellen Trainor) has a past no one is willing to tell Lilly about. Muriel is having an affair with Uncle Ray. There's some secret involving Maize, Uncle Ray and a young African-American minister from up north (Jeffrey D. Sams) that no one wants to talk about. There are secrets involving the fire.

One secret would be fine. But all of this just gets confusing.

In the end, the characters and the actors are better than the script, which cops out badly in the last few minutes.

To truly be able to judge Hawn's talents as a director, she's going to have a get a good script. She didn't get one for "Hope."