GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM. Directed by Barry Levinson; written by Mitch Markowitz, produced by Mark Johnson and Larry Brezner. Starring Robin Williams and Forrest Whitaker. Rated R (mostly for language; some violence)
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When the movie M*A*S*H came out in 1970, it couldn't be about the Vietnam war. That was too close and becoming much too painful. So it used the Korean War as a metaphor. But now, finally, Vietnam has its M*A*S*H.
There's one big difference between Good Morning, Vietnam and the movie M*A*S*H (as well as the T.V. series that grew beyond it). The latter was an ensemble piece, with several characters sharing the action and the spotlight, at least to some degree. Good Morning, Vietnam, on the other hand, is strictly a one-man show. That man is Williams, however, so no one should mind.
Williams is Adrian Cronauer (who is a real person, by the way, although not everything that happens in the movie is true), a rock 'n' roll disc jockey thrust into the Mantovanni world of Armed Forces Radio Saigon. Cronauer quickly gains a large following among the listening audience, but just as quickly antagonizes his immediate supervisors.
These clashes aren't just about music, even though Lt. Hauk (Bruno Kirby) is dying to play polkas on the air. Cronauer goes in for topical satire, and has the odd idea that he ought to report the news as it happens. The powers that be at the radio station, though, especially Sgt. Maj. Dickerson (J.T. Walsh), are so obsessed with secrecy and deception that they don't even want to broadcast accurate weather reports.
Good Morning, Vietnam is at its best with Williams at the microphone in his deejay booth, letting his frenetic, inventive mind run wild. Its more serious scenes, while presenting a welcome portrayal of the Vietnamese and even the Viet Cong as people, are not as auccessful.
The comedy suffers when Williams is not at center screen. Most of the supporting cast is nowhere near his league, although Kirby and Forest Whitaker (as Cronauer's faithful sidekick) are amusing.
But it's still worth seeing—for inspired, M*A*S*H -like touches such as the Army intelligence censors who are identical twins—and, of course, for Williams' virtuosity.
February 3, 1988