By Ken Tucker
Updated March 02, 1990 at 05:00 AM EST

You may recall the widely publicized story of Terry O’Kelley, a poor Southern teenager who won some fame in 1986 as he strove to keep his six younger brothers together after their mother died and their father abandoned them.

It was the sort of inspirational real-life drama — seven boys determined to remain a family — that makes TV-movie producers reach for their checkbooks, and here we have the result: a weeper starring Rick Schroder as Terry.

As A Son’s Promise tells the story the O’Kelley boys were plagued by one disaster after another: The house the brothers built for themselves burned down, their beloved grandfather died soon after their mother, Terry lost his job, a judge threatened to separate the boys.

These disasters — as real as they may be — have been placed in a TV movie with a lot of actors running around trying to approximate Georgia twangs and working-class despair. Well, it’s all a bit much. There are just too darn many people getting misty-eyed gazing at Schroder and muttering things like ”I never saw somebody try so blamed hard.”

Schroder fares best here — his twang is subtle, his despair discreet — and director John Korty (The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman) does his usual good job of steering his actors around the most melodramatic moments. There’s also a fine supporting performance by Veronica Cartwright as the boys’ kind but tough court-appointed guardian.

But as noble as the movie’s intentions prove to be, there’s not enough creativity added to the facts to raise A Son’s Promise above the level of extremely sincere tearjerker. C