TV REVIEW : CBS Offers a Punishing 'Jailbirds'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two escaped convicts, one black, one white, handcuffed together, on the run from the law in the Deep South. Mutual hostility vies with mutual need.

Sound familiar?

It was the theme of Stanley Kramer's great 1958 film, "The Defiant Ones," starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis.

Tonight's female comedy version, "Jailbirds," (at 9 p.m. on Channels 2 and 8) achieves greatness, too--in the categories of "cruel and unusual punishment" and "corn overdose."

Who aids and abets this turkey? Academy Award-nominee Dyan Cannon and "The Cosby Show's" elegant Phylicia Rashad, along with director Burt Brinckerhoff and writers Craig Heller, Guy Shulman and Marcia Midkiff.

Rashad is Janice, a high-powered executive driving across country to the East Coast, where she's to close a $24-million deal. Why is she driving? How else would she get stuck in a Louisiana backwater, accused of car theft?

Cannon is Rosie, a trashy but good-hearted country gal who shows a lot of leg and midriff. She's accused of takin' a hatchet to her cheatin' man.

Thrown into jail together, Janice and Rosie establish conflict with a food fight and wrestling encounter. Then they escape. This gives them the opportunity for girl talk--"every little girl dreams about getting married"--and just-for-fun sexual situations. That backwoods would-be rapist is a knee-slapper, all right.

Stopping at her parents' house for a relevancy moment, Rosie sings Cajun songs and outfits Janice for hitchhiking by whipping her up a Daisy Mae dress out of an old sheet. Janice gets excited and tells Rosie she could be another Anne Klein. Rosie's pa tells her she's doomed to hell. Viewers may feel they've already arrived.

* Coincidentally, the original "The Defiant Ones" shows at 10:50 tonight on TBS cable.

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