October 29, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

As one of the few moviegoers in America who saw The Programtwice-once in its original form, and once after its studio, WaltDisney, removed the scene in which college quarterback Joe Kane(Craig Sheffer) lies down drunk in the middle of speeding highwaytraffic-I can’t exactly claim that a masterpiece has been butchered.Yet on the film’s own formula-entertainment terms, the lost scene iscrucial.Joe’s act isn’t presented as a cool thing to do (though the threeyoung men who were killed while imitating it obviously believedotherwise). The whole point of the scene is that he engages inself-destructive daredevil stunts because he’s conflicted-about thepressure of being a Heisman trophy contender, and about hisscuzzball father, who doesn’t believe in him. In the new version,this screwed-up side of Joe is virtually gone. Late in the film, whenhe plays chicken with a speeding train, it now seems like generichotshot stuff instead of the dangerous echo of the highway scene itwas in the original version.I’m not trying to make The Program sound like a better film thanit is. As I wrote in my Oct. 8 review, it’s ”a moderately engagingpileup of sports- movie cliches.” Yet Disney’s action is enough tomake me wonder: Given another freak instance of tragic copycatbehavior, would the company’s executives trim a scene from a movie bythe Hughes brothers (makers of the acclaimed inner-city drama MenaceII Society), whom they recently signed? Would they have chopped thechicken game out of Rebel Without a Cause? What’s disturbing aboutthe decision to cut The Program is the Disney executives’ casualcontempt for the content of their motion pictures. If they don’t evenhave the conviction to stand by their own product, then how can webuy their stance of public concern as anything but a pandering caseof spin control?

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