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`Lucas' signals degree of hope for teen films

As teen movies go, the recent arrival called ``Lucas'' isn't as impressive as the current ``Desert Bloom,'' which sets an unusually high standard for this overworked genre. But it's still a cut above the norm, and writer-director David Seltzer deserves a nod of encouragement. The title character is a brainy 14-year-old who has been ``accelerated'' into high school and wants desperately to fit in with the older children -- especially a friendly girl named Maggie, who's new in town and might give him a tumble just because she doesn't know anyone else. His rival turns out to be (wouldn't you know?) the football captain, so our diminutive hero goes out for the team, with predictably awful results. He still manages to win a moral victory, if not a physical or romantic one, and the ending is corny but nice.

The picture has its share of trite situations and too-familiar characters, and it goes off the deep end when little Lucas puts on shoulder pads and heads for the gridiron. But filmmaker Seltzer keeps us on our toes by treating the material with unexpected conviction.

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The well-chosen cast (headed by Corey Haim and Kerri Green) follows suit with a string of professionally crafted performances that bring even the weaker scenes alive.

In terms of sharp screenwriting and quietly competent directing, ``Lucas'' runs the hit ``Pretty in Pink'' right off the screen. It's no great movie, but it's a hopeful sign that teen pictures are turning in a more intelligent direction.

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