Based on a Stephen King novella -- but Stephen King without supernaturalism: Stephen King encroaching instead on Sherwood Anderson territory. (Do they still read Sherwood Anderson in American high schools, or is it now all Stephen King, S.E. Hinton, and the "poetry" of Bruce Springsteen?) Set in the summer of 1959 in Castle Rock, Oregon, the story concerns four twelve-year-olds who have got wind (never mind how) of the whereabouts of a missing contemporary of theirs, whose name and face have been all over the local news: he is now to be found by the railroad tracks, better than a day's hike away, where he was thrown after being struck by the train. The quartet sets out on an overnight quest, interested in the first place to see a bona fide dead body, and in the second place to reap the publicity benefits of having been the ones to discover him. The episodic action, padded out with a few flashbacks (actually, flashbacks-within-a-flashback) and an ill-judged fantasy sequence, has still had to be overloaded with contrived incident in order just to reach feature-length. (Nothing in the interim quite justifies the solemnizing tone of the beginning and ending: "We'd only been gone two days," the first-person narrator affirms at the finish, "but somehow the town seemed different, smaller.") And in similar fashion, only more so, the movie has been overcrowded with the bric-à-brac of nostalgia. Even at its most informed and informative, this sort of thing, laid on at this sort of thickness, becomes showoffy and pedantic: a trivial pursuit par excellence. With Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell, and Richard Dreyfuss; directed by Rob Reiner. (1986) — Duncan Shepherd
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