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Desperate Choices: To Save My Child

Slow, predictable and numbingly sentimental drama, inspired by a court case about a family facing decision over child's bone marrow transplant, has little to offer as either pure entertainment or discussion of a social issue.

Slow, predictable and numbingly sentimental drama, inspired by a court case about a family facing decision over child’s bone marrow transplant, has little to offer as either pure entertainment or discussion of a social issue.

When Richard Robbins (Bruce Davison) and his wife, Mary Ellen (Joanna Kerns) discover that Cassie (Reese Witherspoon), Richard’s daughter from his first marriage, has leukemia, they are faced with a tough decision.

Willie (Joe Mazzello), their 7-year-old son, is a likely match for a bone marrow transplant. However, Mary Ellen, an overprotective mother, balks at letting their son undergo the pain and possible risks of the operation, even to save the life of her stepdaughter.

The choice of endangering one child to save the other splits the family apart , with husband and wife landing in a bitter court fight.

Ultimately, good sense prevails and Mary Ellen agrees to the operation at the end of the movie, with a happy outcome the likely result.

Story proceeds at an interminably slow pace, with scene after scene of lingering, heartfelt bedside talks, all designed to wrench every last drop of pathos and sentimentality out of the premise.

Utterly devoid of humor, the drama plods along predictably, with each of the characters more stricken and noble than the next. In fact, all that seems to happen to these people by the end is that their halos have been rearranged.

Direction by Andrew Tennant and writing by Sandra Jennings and Maggie Kleinman are languid and straight-ahead, as audience shuttles from medical test to hospital bed to bedroom and then back again.

Actors do their best in these circumstances, with Witherspoon bearing up particularly well under the relentless melodramatic pounding. However, nobody comes out very well in this sentimental mush.

There may be an obscure legal point lurking underneath this story, which is whether a parent can be forced to give consent for a transplant or medical treatment on one child to save the life of another.

While lawyers and ethicists may debate the fine points of this legal doctrine , it hardly merits network air time in an era of AIDS, the drug epidemic and a staggering economy, particularly when the story is presented in such a lifeless, manipulative form.

Desperate Choices: To Save My Child

(Mon. (5), 9-11 p.m., NBC)

  • Production: Filmed in L.A. by Andrew Adelson Prods. in association with ABC Prods. Executive producer, Andrew Adelson; director, Andrew Tennant; writers, Sandra Jennings, Maggie Kleinman.
  • Crew: Camera, Peter Stein; production designer, Chester Kaczenski; editor, Debra Neil; music, John M. Keane.
  • Cast: Cast: Joanna Kerns, Bruce Davison, Reese Witherspoon, Joe Mazzello, Jeremy Sisto, Bruce McGill, Steven Gibbon, Randi Reed, Ron Canada, J.D. Hall, William Newman, Larry Brandenburg, Phillip Curry, Debby Shively, Duke Moosekian, Hugh Liggett, Bryan Anthony, Mark Davenport, Dean Scofield, Mary Kohnert.