20 February 2002 | Aidan McGuinness
Oh dear...Woefully executed morale lesson alert
"White Man's Burden" has a (reasonably) neat premise: society is reversed so the black man is in the white man's current place. The idea is this allows us to tackle our prejudices and preconceived notions about society. Does it work? No, it's too busy being laughable or boring.
From the opening I felt chills. Was this chocolate factory scene, brown being poured on top of white, some horribly clumsy use of imagery? I feared so. The film looked set to be heavy-handed, and it was. The movie's flaw is that it over-does it's premise - nearly all the white people are poor and rundown, while all the black people come across as elitist snobs. The underlying message of course being that in "our reality" the situation is reversed and this gives a horribly, simplistic, and downright irritating attitude towards race. It's completely simplistic and infuriating - not because you're angered that it's right but because it's done so poorly and with a preachiness that grates.
It might all be OK if there was a story to support it. There isn't. Reeking of TV movie-of-the-week, John Travolta is playing a desperate factory-worker who kidnaps his ex-boss in a bid to get the money he lost from being fired unfairly. *Yawn*. There's no suspense and no tension in their scenes. There's the boring, trite situation where the boss, played by Harry Belafonte, starts to understand Travolta's cause. Far too obvious in coming. There's even the hilariously poor moment when Belafonte's son takes home a white girl to a look of distaste from his mother - bang that message-hammer on our heads Mr Nakano (the script writer). I'm reminded of a moment from "Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood" when the character is similarly preachy and the postman turns to the screen and says "Message!" pointing out how morale messages are weakly delivered. In fact the only decent bit is about two minutes from the end, and even that's ruined by the (incredibly) obvious follow-up final minute. *Yawn*.
Travolta does nothing for this picture. This film was released after his sudden re-emerge in "Pulp Fiction", but I imagine he made it while still wandering around the Turkey Farm. His performance is as forgettable, as is usual with him and Belafonte is just OK.
Nothing can make me recommend this piece. If you want a movie about race issues why not watch the infinitely superior "American History X". This movie has a dreadful plot, weak acting, and destroys a promising premise by being both heavy-handed and insultingly simplistic. Avoid. 2/10.