The Tic Code will seem especially familiar to those who already caught it on Showtime (the film was made in 1997), and it's hard to imagine how this theatrical release will find much of an audience now. Star Polly Draper co-produced and wrote the story of Miles (Christopher George Marquette), a musical prodigy living in downtown New York City who struggles daily with Tourette Syndrome (a neurological disorder that manifests itself as involuntary facial tics and verbal outbursts). Miles' divorced mother, Laura (Draper), tries to help her son by enrolling him in a special music class, but Miles finds greater support and rapport in the nearby jazz clubs.

In one club, Miles develops a friendship with the saxophone artist Tyrone (Gregory Hines, 'ghosted' by Alex Foster), who also suffers from Tourette Syndrome. They invent 'the tic code,' as a way to pretend that their tics are actually a secret language. When Tyrone meets Laura, he falls for her, and she, likewise, is attracted to him. But when Laura begins asking questions about his disability, Tyrone gets angry and breaks up with her. Miles takes the split between his mother and Tyrone badly. He lifts a gun from Laura's desk, runs away to the docks, and almost shoots himself, but Tyrone finds and stops him in time. Later, Tyrone brings Miles home to Laura, who is relieved and delighted to welcome both of them back into her life.

The Tic Code tries hard to humanize a message movie about accepting differences in others and in oneself. Nuances of humor and other touches (such as the jazz club setting) give the film a bit more substance than the average 'TV disease movie of the week.' (The jazz moments include both new material and vintage footage of Thelonious Monk.) It is also an interesting dramatic device to depict an interracial romance where an issue other than race comes between the couple.

Many of the performances lend credibility to the drama, even when it becomes clichd. Draper and Hines work well together as the troubled couple (Draper is especially good), Desmond Robertson is charming as Miles' best friend, Fisher Stevens is appropriately sleazy as a record producer, and David Johansen (remember 'Buster Poindexter'?) steals a scene as a doorman.

Unfortunately, much of the film's attempted empathy is undercut by the performance of Christopher George Marquette as Miles. This child actor never allows the audience to appreciate his character's inner turmoil, because he only emphasizes the more selfish, even insufferable aspects of Miles' behavior (e.g., imitating Gandhi in public, insulting heavyweight women, fighting with his mother). Since the film makes it clear that Tourette Syndrome is not the cause of his rudeness, Miles hardly becomes a sympathetic figure. And Marquette's depiction of the tics looks somewhat forced and self-conscious, although, in fairness, Hines does not fare much better with his 'tic' moments.

Still, in other ways, The Tic Code is a fairly satisfying small-scale drama with some fine musical sidelights.

--Eric Monder