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Film review: Goodbye Bird, The

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 25 1993 12:00 a.m. MDT

Young Francis Phillips is a troubled kid. His father recently deserted the family, his mother is struggling to provide for them and Francis is having trouble in school.

If that's not enough, he also hates his name. Can't anyone call him "Frank"? And his mother isn't crazy about his repeatedly selling the same pigeon to a schoolmate.

As far as school is concerned, it might not be quite so overwhelming if the principal, Ms. Van Borins, weren't so stiff and unfeeling. She even bosses her pet parrot around — between Latin lessons — as the hapless bird sits quietly in his cage in her office.

Then one day, during one of Ms. Van Borins' lectures, Francis watches as the parrot steals out of his cage and drops out the window to escape. Later, he finds the bird has taken up refuge with a bizarre bag lady named Doris.

Naturally, Ms. Van Borins accuses Francis of stealing the bird and he eventually finds himself sitting before a juvenile court judge. Though there is no hard evidence that Francis is guilty, he's put to work in the local animal shelter, where he meets Ray Whitney, who encourages Francis' natural knack with animals.

Francis does well for a time, but things get sticky when he realizes that animals in the shelter are put to sleep when they aren't adopted within a certain period — so he plots to rescue them. Meanwhile, Ms. Van Borins is still on his case.

`The Goodbye Bird" is a low-budget, locally produced film (shot in Salt Lake City, with loads of familiar locations) with a number of Hollywood personalities in the cast. Christopher Pettiet, who has appeared in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead," has the lead role. Cindy Pickett (most recently seen in "Son-in-Law") plays his mother. Concetta Tomei takes the roles of both Ms. Van Borins and the homeless Doris. And Wayne Rogers (TV's "M*A*S*H" and "House Calls") is Ray.

Quite a few local actors also dot the cast, including Michael Scott (as Ch. 5's "animal specialist"), Jesse Bennett, Michael Flynn, Jeff Olson and others.

An animal-rights family comedy, "The Goodbye Bird" is filled with good intentions but unfortunately fails to deliver either the warmth or the laughs it aims for.

Much of this has to do with the lackluster direction by William Clark (which is apparently a pseudonym for someone who wishes to remain anonymous). For some reason, he was simply unable to get a handle on the comic impetus and inventive bits of business inthe script, by Salt Lake playwrights Allen Nevins and Nancy Borgenicht ("Saturday's Voyeur"). (Local cinematographer Matt Williams does some very nice work here, as well.)

He has also extracted very uneven performances from his cast — some playing it relatively straight and others so over the top that they seem to belong in some other movie. Pettiet comes off best, underplaying Frank as troubled but basically a good kid. Pickett has a few warm moments when her character is being thoughtful but other times is more reactionary. Rogers is also uneven, never quite finding the center of his character. And Tomei, who should steal the picture with two broad comic caricatures, instead seems to be off the mark.

If "The Goodbye Bird" had come along during a dearth of family pictures, it might not seem so pale in comparison. But with "The Secret Garden" and "Searching for Bobby Fischer" new in theaters, "The Goodbye Bird" seems more like a video prospect.