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TV Review: 'War Stories' arms itself with soap-opera flavor

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Originally filmed as a one-hour pilot for a fall series, NBC's "War Stories" has been expanded into a two-hour TV movie. The seams show a little in this story of American journalists covering a civil war in Uzbekistan between the militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the American-backed repressive Uzbek government.

Jeff Goldblum stars as Ben Dansmore, a reporter for the Baltimore Globe. He's anguished over the death of the photographer he worked with when a replacement arrives. Nora Stone (Lake Bell) is a newbie who jumps at anything that sounds like a gunshot. She's naive about world politics, clueless about the rules of journalism and idealistic.

'War Stories'

WHEN:9 p.m. tomorrow on NBC.

STARRING: Jeff Goldblum, Lake Bell, Jeffrey Nordling.


"This thing doesn't take sides," Nora says, holding her camera. "It captures clear unambiguous truth."

As in HBO's far superior "Live From Baghdad," all the journalists stay in the same hotel, including a predictably narcissistic TV reporter (Jeffrey Nordling) and a slutty newsmagazine reporter (Louise Lombard). They cling to a more cynical belief: "There is no truth. That's why they call them stories."

American viewers long ago proved they're uninterested in watching dramatic discussions of media ethics and issues (see the failures of "Live Shot," "WIOU" and "Breaking News"). "War Stories" wisely treads lightly on these issues, focusing instead on the characters and danger in the war zone.

In its first hour, "War Stories" feels a little too TV unreal, particularly any battle scene or confrontation with a spy, who spells out everything that happened at the end of the movie. As war-set programs go, "China Beach" was more believable.

Goldblum, always an interesting actor, makes "War Stories" better than it should be. It isn't a great two hours of television, but it's soapy enough to be fairly engrossing.

You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com . Post questions or comments to http://www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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