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`Breakfast Club': honest try at a penetrating movie about teen-agers

It's possible that filmmaker John Hughes will give us a great movie about teen-agers someday. He made an honest try in ``Sixteen Candles,'' and he does it again in his new picture, ``The Breakfast Club.'' But conventions and clich'es have built a thick crust over the subject of adolescence in films, and Hughes's style isn't quite sharp enough -- visually or verbally -- to slice through to the emotional core of the matter.

The premise of the picture is promising. Five high school kids, guilty of one infraction or another, show up for a Saturday ``detention'' session under the eye of a teacher. They're a motley crew -- ``a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal,'' as one of them says it. But there's no exit from their situation, so they size each other up and start to interact. Fun, mischief, hate, aggression, affection, and romance are among the results, with at least one moment of soul-baring for each of the crew.

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Although it contains the usual quota of rough language and tentative sex play, ``The Breakfast Club'' differs from most scruffy youth-movies by having a shapely, even classical, structure. The unities are observed even more strictly than in ``American Graffiti'' -- there's one setting, one time period, one set of problems -- and Hughes rarely cuts away from the kids to add variety for its own sake.

To his credit, the film rarely seems cramped or confining, and the camera usually manages to find something worth looking at in the cavernous building where all the action takes place. Also commendable are the realistic perspectives on adolescent stress that mark many scenes; and I'm very impressed with a few burning moments that capture, better than anything I've seen, the intimate connection between rock music and implosive teen-age energy.

Yet the screenplay never does full justice to the nerve-tingling start of the film, which signals a tough-minded attitude that Hughes does not sustain. As hard as he tries to get inside his characters, he never fully succeeds, falling back more than once on standard mush.

This is a common failing of youth pictures that want to explore rather than exploit their subject -- it even addled the ending of ``Over the Edge'' a few years ago, stifling its bid to become the most uncompromising teen pic of them all. Still, it's good to see a potentially strong filmmaker like Hughes taking on this difficult genre as a specialty, at least for the time being. One of these years he might scramble past the weaknesses of his first attempts and make a youth-movie as we've never before seen. `A Marriage'

``A Marriage'' is a sincere movie, full of carefully placed details that indicate real connections between filmmakers, performers, and subject matter.

But sincerity and involvement are no substitute for inspiration and excitement. For all its good intentions and commendable compassion, this is a minor achievement that promises more than it delivers.

The film traces the relationship of a young couple from courtship to divorce, following them during 10 years or so of mingled happiness, hopefulness, disappointment, and downright woe. Since they eventually head for a separation, their tale has parallels with the ``Maples'' stories of John Updike -- a series of related yarns about the ``happy divorce'' of a man and woman who have simply outgrown each other. Like the movie based on those stories a few years ago, however, ``A Marriage'' lacks the emotional precision needed to capture the most bittersweet emotions without its going too soft, sentimental, or vague.

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Sandy Tung, who wrote and directed ``A Marriage,'' deserves credit for giving the film a professional look on a super-low budget of $125,000 and a modest shooting schedule of 22 days -- on location in Staten Island, N.Y., which contributes a fresh background for the action. Also praiseworthy is the visible enthusiasm of the lead performers, Ric Gitlin and Isabel Glasser.

But none of this enables ``A Marriage'' to catch fire as it ought to. Like its own neat nuances of dress and d'ecor, it seems calculated even when it wants to spring spontaneously to life. Although it comes to the theatrical circuit with impressive credentials -- a premi`ere in the 1983 festival of ``New Directors/New Films'' sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art -- its prospects as a regular ``movie-movie'' seem limited at best.

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