The cure of “The Cure,” or at least the prospect of one, is for AIDS. In this instance, it’s a matter of life and death for a preteen named Dexter (Joseph Mazzello) who became HIV-positive following a blood transfusion in a rural Minnesota hospital. The premise reeks of staple television dramatic fare and, even if it represents the zenith of the form, it’s very much rooted in small-screen, earnest, low-key human emotion. Combined with inherent downbeat nature of the material, the film will be more admired than embraced. Theatrical prospects are modest, particularly overseas, with ancillaries providing the lifeline to commercial solvency.
The novelty in Robert Kuhn’s script is that it relates the story’s tender, tragic and comic moments through the eyes of one of Dexter’s healthy contemporaries.
Erik (Brad Renfro) is a transplant from the South whose outsider status is considerably less lethal than that of his neighbor.
Everyone knows about Dexter in town, presumably because he gained fleeting media celebrity when he was diagnosed.
Initially, the boys communicate, literally, from opposite sides of the fence. The awkward interplay begins to break down Erik’s unwarranted fears; he defies his mother’s orders to steer clear of the “sick” kid.
Director Peter Horton is most assured with his performers, particularly the central youngsters.
The strength he brings to the material is in the development of their relationship.
It has the friendliness and intimacy one finds several seasons into a hit TV series.
“The Cure” is rife with anecdote that propels the story toward its inevitable conclusion. But wholly preposterous plot turns take over, and pic never recovers once the two boys decide to paddle down the Mississippi a laHuck Finn.
Renfro, from “The Client,” is reminiscent of the young River Phoenix in his ease and command before the camera and, also recalling early Phoenix, is physically unrecognizable from his last outing. He’s the linchpin of the movie.
Mazzello is equally good, avoiding his role’s inherent danger of inflation to Camille-like proportions.
The adults aren’t as lucky, particularly the gifted Diana Scarwid, who’s saddled with a stereotypical close-minded parent role. Annabella Sciorra is given slightly more dimension as Mazzello’s mother.
Technically handled with aplomb and a pleasant lack of fussiness, the picture has a coziness that takes the drama to a grass-roots level.
That sense of familiarity is a double-edged sword: The script too often falls into pat convention after rallying with inventive turns.
Hardly an antidote to formula family drama, “The Cure” presents the flickering of talents still in an embryonic stage.