In this family drama from director Sidney Lumet, Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti play Arthur and Annie Pope, a pair of '60s radicals who have eluded the FBI for 16 years after bombing a napalm laboratory as a Vietnam War protest. This… More In this family drama from director Sidney Lumet, Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti play Arthur and Annie Pope, a pair of '60s radicals who have eluded the FBI for 16 years after bombing a napalm laboratory as a Vietnam War protest. This lifestyle involves continually moving their base of operations and establishing new identities, which is especially hard on their children, 18-year-old Danny (River Phoenix) and 10-year-old Harry (Jonas Abry), who can never amass a group of friends or an academic record. This last problem comes to the fore when they arrive in a New Jersey town where the high school music teacher (Ed Crowley) takes an interest in Danny's piano playing, encouraging him to apply for early admission to Juilliard. Danny yearns to follow this dream, but knows that separating from his parents would be a permanent break -- the aging hippies rarely even see their own parents, and can never inform anyone where they've moved. Arthur can't stand the idea of breaking up the family unit, which has provided the support that's allowed him to tolerate life on the move, but Annie sees her own sacrificed dreams in her son's prodigious musical talents, and begins pressuring Arthur to grant the boy his independence. Complicating factors, Danny has fallen in love with the daughter of his music teacher (Martha Plimpton), but can't allow himself to get too close to her, because he may have to leave again at any moment. ~ Derek Armstrong, Rovi
Consensus: Running on Empty largely skims past its political themes, but River Phoenix's performance helps anchor the story's generational conflict.