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Thicker Than Blood

While the story may be so familiar as to be a cliche -- middle-class worker bucks the odds in an inner-city school -- adept script and uniformly strong cast draw Richard Pearce-directed "Thicker than Blood" to the near-top of its genre.

With:
Father Frank Larkin - Mickey Rourke Griffin Byrne - Dan Futterman Lee Cortez - Carlo Alban Camilla Lopez - Lauren Velez Kendal - Josh Mostel

While the story may be so familiar as to be a cliche — middle-class worker bucks the odds in an inner-city school — adept script and uniformly strong cast draw Richard Pearce-directed “Thicker than Blood” to the near-top of its genre.

Script, by Bill Cain, co-creator of “Nothing Sacred” (the recently canceled ABC-TV series, not the screwball comedy), is based on his play, “Stand-Up Tragedy.”

Second-billing notwithstanding, Dan Futterman has the major role of Griffin Byrne, a recent graduate who — over the objections of his father — chooses teaching at an inner-city mission school instead of graduate studies in law. His mentor is gruff Father Frank Larkin. That role, a natural in years past for Robert Blake or Spencer Tracy, is here limned by toplined Mickey Rourke, underplaying enough to make David Caruso look like Jim Carrey.

In a nice touch, Byrne tries to get to his class by having them imagine a math problem as a drug transaction. They get it right away, but Byrne is rebuked for patronizing his pupils.

Overall look is rich; dark with bluish tinge typical of N.Y.-set cop shows. Cast, predominantly Hispanic and all notable, also includes Lee Cortez as the rebellious kid with a talent Byrne commits to developing; Vincent Laresca as kid’s hoodlum older brother; and Lauren Velez, Peter Maloney and Josh Mostel as a couple of Byrne’s fellow teachers. Byrne has a dramatically pointless, short-lived affair with one of them; you’ll have to watch to learn which. When teacher takes adorable, talented Cortez character into his home, Larkin advises Byrne not to get too close to his pupil: “You don’t understand what you’re getting in to — leave it alone.”

Clever acknowledgment of at least one of pic’s predecessors — which include “The Blackboard Jungle” and “Dangerous Minds,” among others — finds Byrne at home, watching “Stand and Deliver” on videotape and memorizing Jaime Escalante’s speeches.

TNT will air the telepic Wednesday at 5 p.m. and June 8 at 8 p.m.

Thicker Than Blood

Drama; TNT, Sun., May 31, 8 p.m.

Production: Filmed in New York City by Sarabande Prods. Executive producer, David Manson; producer, Michael Hausman; co-producer, Charles Darby; director, Richard Pearce; writer, Bill Cain, based on his play "Stand-Up Tragedy".

Cast: Father Frank Larkin - Mickey Rourke Griffin Byrne - Dan Futterman Lee Cortez - Carlo Alban Camilla Lopez - Lauren Velez Kendal - Josh MostelCamera, Nancy Schreiber; editor, Mark Warner; production designer, Ginger Tougas; sound, Gary Alper; music, Mark Adler; casting, Alexa L. Fogel. 120 MIN. With: Peter Maloney, Vincent Laresca, Rosana de Soto, Dick Latessa, Grace Garland, Brandon Segarra, Travis Delingua, Agustin Rodriguez, Floyd Resnick, Lanisha Mora, Frances Conroy, Steve Ryan, Angel Caban, Iris Little Thomas, Daniel Guarda, Joey Franquinha, Hector Bernard, Rick Gonzalez, Maximo Lopez, Rony Clanton, David Reilly, Ray Stein, Meryl Newbern

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