Ken Tucker
February 18, 1994 AT 05:00 AM EST

An interesting, fact-based legal case has been turned into a stiff melodrama in Assault at West Point (Showtime, Feb. 27, 8-10 p.m.). Written, directed, and produced by Harry Moses, whose past films have included the first-rate American Playhouse production The Trial of Bernhard Goetz, Assault at West Point tells the story of Johnson Whittaker (Seth Gilliam), one of the first African-American cadets admitted to West Point. In 1880, Whittaker was tied down and beaten by fellow cadets; he was court-martialed on the grounds that he had staged his own assault to avoid taking a philosophy exam. During his military trial, Whittaker was represented by two attorneys: Daniel Chamberlain, a testy racist played by Sam Waterston (I’ll Fly Away), and Richard Greener, a black Harvard graduate (Samuel L. Jackson, of Jungle Fever and Jurassic Park). They squabble over how best to defend Whittaker, and the drama loses focus-the cadet’s personality never comes across, because Waterston and Jackson are so ostentatiously chewing the scenery. Thank goodness for John Glover (South Beach), who plays the officer prosecuting Whittaker; preening amusingly, he delivers his lines with a witty ferociousness. Single-handedly, he energizes this lethargic TV movie. C+

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