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Based on a Stephen King novella and written by Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans, Stand By Me sends these pint-size paladins on an excursion to find the body of a boy crushed by a train. They swap insults and anxieties, muse on the enthralling Mousekebosom of Annette Funicello and finally face down a gang of toughs, with Gordie threatening to blow away the leader. Director Rob Reiner (This Is Spinal Tap) knows which buttons to push on the nostalgia synthesizer: the movie is wallpapered with '50s artifacts and a terrific score of oldies. But Stand By Me is a shuck. It trumpets its sensitivity while reveling in coarseness. And at its climax it suggests that manhood can be found through the barrel of a gun. Maybe this is how Rambo discovered puberty. Maybe real kids should be discouraged from following his example.
The most obscene phrase a woman can utter is "I love you" when it is forced from her at rape point. Once her privacy has been invaded so brutally, every flirtatious glance will feel like an assault, every friendly caress will be evidence of sexual harassment. She may recoil each time she hears words of endearment, or tries to speak them, because the violation has so grotesquely twisted the verbal and emotional vocabulary of love. Rape is a toxic parody of lovemaking that, for the victim, may poison all memories and all expectations of physical intimacy. It is a Damoclean sword hanging over a woman's sexual life.
Extremities, William Mastrosimone's off-Broadway play about a rape victim who dares to fight back, was not much as dramaturgy. Its subsidiary characters were liberal placards, and for whole scenes it could fall asleep standing up on its soapbox. But it found primal energy in the tragic simplicity of its subject -- getting raped -- and its solution: getting even. For the movies, Mastrosimone has expanded and improved his text. Marjorie (Farrah Fawcett) now knows the rapist (James Russo) when he enters her rural home; he had assaulted her the week before. His sick seduction is now a burlesque of an ordinary couple's ordinary day: dressing up, making up, making dinner, making love. And the debate over the need for revenge that ensues among Marjorie, who has managed to overcome and confine her attacker, and her two roommates (Alfre Woodard and Diana Scarwid) has been trimmed of some rhetorical fat, while still allowing the rapist to woo the women with his new vulnerability.
Director Robert M. Young (Rich Kids, Short Eyes) nicely uses the camera's innate voyeurism -- it rapes with the eyes -- to promote a complicity between villain and viewer. The audience is challenged to be fascinated by the barrage of sexual violence without being aroused by it. Russo, a rude insinuator in the Brando mold, gets all the preening menace and depraved humor from his role. Fawcett, who appeared in the stage version (as did Russo), looks wracked and great here. Facing every sordid challenge with a schoolgirl's stern concentration, she gives herself to the bullying demands of her role like a virgin martyr. Her unadorned artistry singes.