Set in the forbidding wasteland of the...

Set in the forbidding wasteland of the future, Australia's The Road Warrior (NBC Sunday at 9 p.m.) is a fantasy-adventure with the skinniest of stories but a lush, full-throttle way of telling it. This slam-bang entertainment envisions a gas-starved postwar world in which scavengers prowl a shimmering strip of highway, ready to kill for a tank of fuel. Nominally a sequel to "Mad Max," it again stars Mel Gibson, now a Shane-like loner who has lost his family and most of his interest in in the outside world. Nevertheless, he's drawn into helping a group of idealistic, bewildered survivors (who control a fuel source in this wasteland) to defend themselves against the masked muscle man Humungous and his baddies, some of the most spectacularly evil-looking sons of Satan ever created for the screen. All of this is as elementary as it sounds, but it's been directed with a driving high style by George Miller. The film is also very violent, but it doesn't linger over the gruesome.

Also in its TV debut is the very funny Night Shift (CBS Tuesday at 9 p.m.) in which Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton (in his knockout screen debut) are so hilarious that they distract us from various plot glitches and gamy premise that, had we time to think about, really isn't all that funny. Winkler is the milquetoast, the oldest young man waling, a financial analyst who takes a night job at a morgue to escape the pressures of Wall Street. Winkler's new unwanted partner at the morgue is mile-a-minute idea man Keaton, a human pinball machine lighted up like Christmas with each new crazy notion. Why not, Keaton decides, run a call-girl operation out of the morgue? Winkler, Keaton, director Ron Howard (whose next hit would be "Splash") and his writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo--that's right Babaloo--Mandel get more laughs out of Night Shift than you would imagine possible.

Another recent and important film airing this week is True Confessions (Channel 5 at 8 p.m. Wednesday and again on Saturday), one of the richest and most fascinating portraits of corruption and ethnicity in American films since "The Godfather" and based on John Gregory Dunne's novel. It is pegged on a case reminiscent of the brutal, sensational Black Dahlia murder that rocked postwar Los Angeles--also the time and setting of this film--and which intersects two seemingly unrelated worlds, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and the backstage of the Los Angeles Police Department. They are represented by two very different brothers, Robert De Niro, a monsignor on the rise, and Robert Duvall, a detective on hold in the downtown LAPD. The pivotal character is corrupt builder Charles Durning, whose recent millions have been gained through church-oriented contract. Infuriatingly--or daringly--depending on how it affects you, director Ulu Grosbard and Dunne (and his co-adaptor wife, Joan Didion) have denied us the sure-fire emotional satisfaction of the obligatory scene concerning Durning's fate, leaving it implied.

A repeat of The Thorn Birds takes up most of ABC's prime time this week--Part 1 (Sunday at 8 p.m.) is especially worth seeing for Barbara Stanwyck's Emmy-winning performances as the matriarch of Drogheda.

Meanwhile, NBC on Monday at 9 p.m. is airing the new TV movie A Reason to Live, about a 14-year-old (Ricky Schroder) struggling to prevent his father (Peter Fonda) from committing suicide.

Repeating Wednesday on CBS at 9 p.m. is the TV movie The Red Light Sting, a comedy-drama in which government agent Beau Bridges enlists the help of call girl Farrah Fawcett in nailing racketeer Harold Gould.

That Louis Malle's My Dinner With Andre (Channel 28 Friday at 10 p.m.) completely disregards what movies are supposed to be all about makes its accomplishment all the greater. It's a cerebral comedy of ideas in which actor Wallace Shawn and avant-garde theater director Andre Gregory, who collaborated in writing the film, more or less play themselves. For two hours during dinner, the two men hold our attention with their conversation in which they at last grapple with the eternal questions of how one should live one's life, how to discover its meaning and, most difficult of all, how to know reality. All that this beautifully structured--and very funny--film is really suggesting is that we try to take stock of our lives.

Among the enjoyable if familiar film fare airing this week are House Calls (Channel 13 Sunday at 6 p.m.), Point Blank (Channel 13 Monday at 8 P.M.) and Tell Them Willie Boy is Here (Channel 5 Thursday at 8 p.m.).

On the pay/cable services: Hammett (Movie Channel Sunday at 6 p.m.), Brian De Palma's Scarface (Showtime Sunday at 8 p.m. and Z Saturday at 8 p.m.), Little Caesar (WGN Sunday at 9:30 p.m.), Fitzcarraldo (Monday on Z at 9 p.m.), Play It as It Lays (WTBS Monday at 9:20 p.m.), Foxes (Tuesday on Z at 9 p.m.), Next Stop, Greenwich Village (Wednesday on WGN at 9:30 p.m.), Look Back in Anger (Thursday on Z at 7 p.m.), Baby, It's You (ON Thursday at 8 p.m.), Heat and Dust (Cinemax Thursday at 10 p.m.), Local Hero (Showtime Friday at 10 p.m.) and 8 1/2 (Saturday on A & E at 9 p.m.).

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