Film review: Cadence

Published: Monday, May 20 1991 12:00 a.m. MDT

"Cadence" is a more modest film that never seems to reach very high, settling for superficial characterizations and an overly familiar series of circumstances.

The setting is an American camp in Germany, circa 1965, with the specter of Vietnam looming over the proceedings.

Charlie Sheen stars as a soldier who was forced to join up as a teenager and whose father has just passed away when the film opens. After the funeral he returns to his post in Germany and gets roaring drunk, which leads to his puttingtattoos of eight-balls on his hands — the Army doesn't like tattoos that show. He subsequently punches an MP and dives through the window of a local bar.

Naturally, the Army doesn't look too kindly on these events, and Sheen finds himself in the stockade. His immediate superior is a macho sergeant (director Martin Sheen) who is also a borderline psychotic, and his bunkmates are five black soldiers, each in for something worse than what he did.

The film has two main plots, the first about Charlie Sheen's having to make peace with his fellow prisoners, who are as wary of him as he is of them, and the second about Martin Sheen going crazy, helped by Charlie's chip on his shoulder since it reminds the sergeant of his own rebellious son.

There is also a bit of business about restoring a windmill that is reminiscent of David Carradine's "Americana," in which Carradine played a troubled Vietnam veteran who restored a carousel.

Though this is obviously not unfamiliar territory, "Cadence" might have made some sort of impact if it were at all compelling. But Sheen the director seems content to skim along the surface and never really explore any of the questions he raises.

The cast is good, though woefully underused. Larry Fishburne makes the strongest impression as the leader of the inmates, and F. Murray Abraham has an unbilled cameo as a lawyer. (Ramon Estevez, who plays the corporal of the guard, is Charlie Sheen's brother.)

"Cadence" is rated PG for violence and profanity but not a lot of either.