‘Word’ sounds too familiar

Susan Haarman

A complex military story involving moral decisions and betrayal in Vietnam? This sounds like a job for Sonny Crockett. Sonny Crockett?

That’s right, Don Johnson crawls out of the shadow of his suave “Miami Vice” character to take on the role of a conflicted company, family and military man in TNT’s “Word of Honor.” (7 p.m., Saturday, TNT)

If you’ve seen military movies involving moral decisions, you probably know where the movie is going. And the action starts off in Vietnam as a platoon looks for refuge in what they believe is a military hospital but turns into an ambush.

With one of their men wounded and the staff reluctant to treat him, the situation grows tense and turns into a bloodbath as the people inside are slaughtered and the evidence burned.

The American troops were sworn to secrecy but as Steven Brandt (John Heard) is dying of prostate cancer, he decides to let the world know of this incident while putting the blame squarely on Benjamin Tyson (Johnson), the platoon’s lieutenant.

Tyson has long since moved on from the military world and made a wildly successful career for himself and put together a family. But when the reports hit the media, Tyson must confess that he has kept the event hidden for 30 years, but still does not reveal the details of the killings.

That reluctance to defend himself leads the military and Major Karen Harper (Jeanne Tripplehorn) on his trail to get to the bottom of the cover-up. Using a loophole to claim Tyson is still in the military (and then to engage him in some Army hazing) she is able to force a trial.

And while Tyson stays quiet and his lawyer J.D. Runnells (Arliss Howard) tries to still prove his silent client’s innocence, the rest of the surviving company has conflicting details in their remembrance of the situation (just like in “Courage Under Fire”), until the event is revealed in perfect clarity (again like “Courage Under Fire”) and everything gets wrapped up much too nicely.

And after the whole experience of “Word of Honor,” it just begs too many comparisons to its superior influences. Besides the “Courage Under Fire” parallels there is a strong sense of “A Few Good Men” though with none of the wit or passion of that movie. And though Howard is quite good as the simple-living, but effective lawyer, it’s a routine that was perfected by Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and been copied ever since.

And when “Word of Honor” goes for original, it often falls flat. Sharon Lawrence gets stuck with the unenviable role of trying to make Tyson’s wife, Marcy, seem convincing. As the story of her husband breaks, the tabloids discover Marcy was a groupie for ’80s hair bands, which leads to an embarrassing recital of bands Marcy partied with.

And to make matters worse, Marcy also gets the bright idea of pretending she’s a hippie and dancing like it’s 1969 to make her husband’s forced return to the military more palatable. It’s extremely jarring from the rest of the deadly serious narrative.

And while William B. Davis (“The X-Files” Cigarette Smoking Man) gives a fun, but all too-short performance and Tripplehorn manages to convincingly transform from floozy to bulldog, the best part of “Word of Honor” is shockingly Johnson’s performance.

In his most serious role in a long time, Johnson brings a lot of believability and reality as the stoic and solemn Tyson. Without falling back on any of his trademarks (minus one scene where he dons sunglasses), Johnson manages to still give the movie a strong presence and a very solid lead performance.

“Word of Honor” is nothing you haven’t seen before, but it manages to stand out a little with action scenes that look quite good for a TV movie and disarmingly compelling performance from Johnson. Consider it saving money on a rental of “Courage Under Fire” if nothing else.

Grade: C,”Matthew T. Olson”