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Harvest of Fire Reviews

Inspired by true incidents, HARVEST OF FIRE is generally well staged, insufferably well-intentioned, and ultimately uninteresting. Trying to embody the pure-in-spirit Amish, the cast becomes unintentionally condescending, as if their research into unworldliness had gotten mixed up with a study of village idiocy. When young Turk critics slam Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations, it's this species of lofty TV special they're lamenting. Stung by relationship crises with her live-in boyfriend, Scot (James Read), self-centered career Fed Sally Russell (Lolita Davidovich) is reluctant to take a charter plane to a case in the boondocks of Iowa, where age-old tranquility has been disrupted by barn fires plaguing the Amish. Uncomfortable with the homespun ways of the simple folk, FBI gal Sally is unable to penetrate the Amish wall of silence at first. But, after breaking bread with charitable widow Annie Beiler (Patty Duke), hardened Sally revises her estimate of the villagers. Misled by her own hate crime theory, Sally targets some young heathens who are ticked off at an Amish teen, Annie's son John (Gabriel Mick), for romancing a town girl named Nancy (Catherine Kellner). Although Sally's self-absorption melts through her exposure to Amish traditions, she also learns this religious community is not immune to all the seven deadly sins. When an otherwise upright Amish man, Jacob (Tom Aldredge), is shunned for pride in not complying with barn-design restrictions, his son, Sam (Eric Mabius), is no longer regarded by Annie as suitable marriage material for her daughter, Rachel (Jean Louisa Kelly). In his confused anger, Sam set the fires devastating his own community. After Sally is reunited with her estranged beau, Scot, she has the unenviable task of arresting Sam, following his public confession. At the court proceedings, the Amish rally round their lost sheep, Sam. Penetrating another culture may be a matter best left to anthropologists. This superficial TV movie registers like the Amish segment of an "It's a Small World" TV special direct from Disneyworld. Because the screenplay only scratches the surface of the Amish people's fallibility, the characters seem oversimplified and unbelievable. More taxing to the viewer is the synthetic manner in which the big-city protagonist's Me-Generation attitude is contrasted with the Amish villagers' selflessness. The juxtaposition of her brittle sophistication with their pie-baking folksiness is much too facile. Thus, this film creaks with the dramatically familiar and expected. Despite the compelling subject matter, one grows irritated by Davidovich's telegraphing of her cynicism and by Duke's turning the other cheek like an Amish Bobbin-head doll. Skimming the surface of a heartbreaking tragedy, HARVEST OF FIRE diminishes the pain of the misunderstood Amish by having them express themselves in platitudes instead of dialogue from the heart. (Violence, adult situations.)