'White Lies' rises above its flaws


September 25, 1991|By Steve McKerrow

Although it is about black and white issues, a pretty good new cable movie premiering tonight does not really treat its material in black and white fashion. Instead, "White Lies" is an unexpectedly complex mix of attitudes and morality.

Why unexpected? It's on the basic cable USA network (at 9 o'clock), whose original movie fare tends to be mindlessly violent and simplistic, including a film about a year ago that walked the same Deep South turf as "White Lies." (In that one, "Blind Vengeance," Gerald McRaney played a father investigating the death of this son in a small Mississippi town where racism and stereotypes abounded and reality seemed far, far away.)

In "White Lies," Gregory Hines is the Northerner who returns to the South, in this case Louisiana (although in an apparent continuity slip he says at one point he's in Georgia). He plays Leonard Madison, press secretary to the mayor of New York. As the movie opens, he learns his father did not die in a farm accident, as he had been told since he was 2, but was lynched by a mob (in 1956) for allegedly raping a white woman.

Postponing a vacation to Hawaii, he returns to the town to find the truth.

For a time, "White Lies" (based upon Samuel Charters' novel "Louisiana Black") moves along predictable paths, as Madison meets hostility and an obvious cover up -- although it is a nice touch that the town's police chief is a black man (Bill Nunn).

But then he meets the family members, son and daughter (Gregg Henry and Annette O'Toole) of the woman his father allegedly assaulted. The former is a liberal politician facing an obviously racist white opponent in a governor's election, and the latter is a doctor who becomes attracted to Leonard.

He also encounters his previously unknown kin and friends of his father, none of whom wants to stir up the past.

And upon finally learning the truth, Leonard must grapple with the question: How can justice be truly served?

There are some wooden moments and the romantic entanglement strains credulity, but "White Lies" manages to rise above the flaws.


"CONTACT!" -- That's what early aviators said to start their engines, and the Arts & Entertainment service takes off tonight with a nice new weekly series about them. In "First Flights" (at 9 on the basic service), moon walker Neil Armstrong narrates a history of aviation.

It begins tonight by blending fascinating grainy footage of the earliest heavier-than-air flying machines with new film from the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in New York. There, pilot Cole Palen has assembled -- and flies -- a collection of restored antique planes, including a 1911 Bleriot 11 (first plane to cross the English Channel) and a Curtiss Model D pusher (the first plane to perform a loop).

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