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Cadence Reviews

Martin Sheen is an earnest and intense performer but inclined to overwrought melodrama, and his directorial debut CADENCE follows suit. It comes as no surprise that the plot reaches its climax on a dark and stormy night. Set largely on a US Army base outside Frankfurt, West Germany, in 1965, Franklin Bean, Jr. (Charlie Sheen) is a young ne'er-do-well who's unwillingly enrolled in the military by his father to straighten him out. When the elder Bean dies, Franklin goes on a binge that ends when he slugs an MP and draws 90 days in the stockade under the control of stern Sergeant Otis McKinney (Martin Sheen). Franklin's barracks-mates turn out to be the "Soul Patrol," a close-knit sextet of black soldiers, serving time on charges ranging from arson to murder. But they're not bad guys at all, actually, and Franklin wins their respect due to his skills at basketball and at defying the hated McKinney. The sergeant himself can't cope with this and cracks up, taking the prisoners out to a rainswept wood at night for pointless maneuvers that result in tragedy. CADENCE is watchable while it lasts, with a generous leavening of humor, but the film keeps throwing emotional punches that never quite connect. Until his operatic breakdown, McKinney hardly comes across as the monster and racist he's supposed to be. Tough, posturing sergeants are a fixture not only of Hollywood but in reality, and McKinney's initially no worse than his counterparts in AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, STRIPES or even "Gomer Pyle USMC." There's a key scene in which a conscience-stricken McKinney really tries to make peace with Franklin Bean, who coldly rejects him "and everything he stands for." Later at McKinney's homicide trial, Franklin takes pity on the sergeant and gives testimony the brass uses to exonorate McKinney, putting Franklin at odds with his stockade soul brothers, until the final shot in which the outcast platoon bonds with him once more as he ships out, apprehensively, for the fresh conflict in Vietnam--all ironic plot twists, all presented with dubious, shaky or inadequate dramatic and political motives. A major problem is the underwritten role of Franklin Bean, a sullen rebel without a cause arbitrarily provided with one in a subplot about an abandoned army windmill that Bean determines to repair. Charlie Sheen does what he can with the part, but he can't make the character's abrupt changes work. The filial resemblance between Martin and Charlie Sheen is inescapable (even more so after a heavy-handed scene revealing that McKinney's dysfunctional relationship with his son parallels his conflict with Franklin). In fact, Martin Sheen's initial role was to be a mere cameo as an army lawyer (eventually taken by an unbilled F. Murray Abraham). Sheen first tried to recruit Robert De Niro for the role of Sergeant McKinney, then cast Gary Busey, fresh from his near-fatal 1988 motorcycle mishap. That didn't work out, and at the last minute the director himself stepped in to play the part. Ironically, Sheen had wanted to make this film for 15 years, ever since reading Gordon Weaver's Count a Lonely Cadence, and planned to play Franklin Bean until age disqualified him and son Charlie substituted. Sheen's third son, a heavily disguised Ramon Estevez, adds solid support as McKinney's weedy adjutant. The African-American actors who portray Franklin's fellow inmates remain, sadly but unsurprisingly, on the fringes of the Bean-centered spotlight. Still, they have enough screen time, spirit and dialogue to resolve into individuals rather than a homogenized mass. Martin Sheen wisely encouraged the talented troupe to improvise, and cast his co-star from APOCALYPSE NOW, Larry Fishburne (THE COLOR PURPLE, SCHOOL DAZE, BOYZ N THE HOOD) as their savvy leader Stokes. Michael Beach also registers strongly as Webb, the Harlem boxing champ who becomes Franklin's closest buddy. (Violence, substance abuse, profanity, adult situations.)