Eden Takes Us Just Halfway to Paradise

2/14/1999 7:00 PM Eastern

Although Sidney Poitier turns in another sterling acting
job in Showtime's Free of Eden, and his daughter, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, is
generally effective in her film debut, this drama's lofty goals are held back by a
somewhat disappointing script.

Eden comes off as a morality play, crafted with Black
History Month in mind and designed to instill black pride. Not that there's anything
wrong with that.

Despite scenes shot in Brooklyn's gritty
Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, the unfortunate result is that this drama sometimes lacks

Only the Poitiers' characters are drawn with any
dimension, and the resolution of the script's various story lines -- by writers Delle
Chatman and Yule Caise -- is too perfect.

Poitier -- also co-executive producer -- again portrays a
teacher. But unlike his high-school teacher role in To Sir with Love and its 1996
TV sequel, this character, Will Cleamons, taught grammar school before quitting years ago
for a lucrative career in the investment business.

Sydney portrays Nicole Turner, 17, a high-school dropout
who witnesses the murder of her boss, Freddy, while working at Fast Freddy's
fast-food outlet.

Now eager to better herself and to get out of the
ironically named Eden Gardens Housing Projects, she recognizes Cleamons as her third-grade
teacher. Inspired by his eulogy at Freddy's funeral, Nicole asks for his help to
"make my life mean something."

When he balks, she snaps, "I guess [that speech] was
nothing but words." Cleamons' associate, Joe (Robert Hooks), then pressures him
into tutoring the teen.

One day, Nicole overhears that Cleamons' ex-wife,
Desiree (Phylicia Rashad), is now in prison, and she becomes obsessed with finding out
about Desiree, even after he scolds her ("We may discuss history, but not my

Unbelievably, Nicole even takes long bus rides to visit
Desiree in jail, learns that she killed her abusive second husband and asks a paralegal
friend to explore a battered-wife defense

The story threads about Nicole's pursuit of learning,
her fear of identifying Freddy's killer and her uneasy relationship with her mother
-- plus Will's unwillingness to face past issues related to teaching and to Desiree
-- are all neatly resolved in the drama's final half-hour.

And just in case we missed the point, the movie closes with
Martin Luther King Jr. quoting the poem, "No man is an island."

Free of Eden will bow on Showtime March 4 at 9:35 p.m.

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