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.