Ridiculous 'White Fang' sequel is a dog

April 15, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

In "White Fang 2: Myth of the White Wolf," the Native Americans appear to have been dressed by that great medicine man Ralph Lauren of the tribe Polo. Really, they're all in these exquisitely color-coordinated, distressed-cotton plaid outfits that suggest the designer's new Double-R line of rough 'n' ready outdoor wear.

Possibly, that suggests the level of authenticity in the new Disney movie, which is less than zero. Only the mountains are real, and if they could have shot it in Orlando with the plastic Matterhorn as a backdrop, they would have. My favorite stroke had 10 guys in cowboy hats building a project in the far Alaskan wilderness that rivals the Trans-Alaska pipeline -- all without power equipment and all in secret!

The film, a sequel to the original of two years ago, is so far removed from Jack London's grim masterpiece of sheer narrative that it's almost comical. As a star vehicle, it has been inherited by Scott Bairstow from Ethan Hawke, not that anybody would notice. Bairstow, a cookie-cutter silhouette of strapping young blue-eyed blond-haired master race who barely registers as human, is conjured up magically as a "friend" of Hawk, who is off in San Francisco repairing somebody's hotel after the great quake (it's 1906).

So Bairstow's Henry Casey, with a season's worth of gold in sacks, packs up on a raft with the great wolf dog White Fang and heads to Dawson. Moron. He risks all that gold on his somewhat flimsy whitewater skills? Yes, and goes into the drink.

He awakens to discover himself an Indian princess' hero. A member of the Haida Tribe, Lily (Charmaine Craig), has been sent to find the "spirit of the wolf," that is, the figure from her father's dreams who will somehow restore the vanished caribou off which the tribe live. For quixotic reasons, she's determined that the wet, mangy kid is such a creature.

At that point, the movie's got trouble right there in River City. The theme of the young Anglo man "helping" the Native Americans is demeaning in all its permutations. Derived from "Dances With Wolves," it represents the worst kind of condescension, which is particularly hypocritical in a project that wears its political correctness on its sleeve. It purports to love Indians while depicting them as essentially childlike and helpless. It's "You-Do-the-Hokey-Pokey With Wolves," that's what it's all about.

In a short time, Casey is leading another young man on a mission to find the caribou, which leads him to the huge project in the mountains, a laughably absurd conceit. Meanwhile, the dog White Fang is having a completely unrelated love affair with a white she-wolf, which he now and then interrupts to miraculously save the kids from assorted bad guys, or to invent penicillin or the typewriter.

Listlessly directed by Ken Olin, who was so sensitive on "thirtysomething," it's about as sensitive as an outhouse. Worst, it utterly destroys its cast. Albert Molina, a very fine actor, is trashed by his paper-thin Snidely Whiplash role as the evil Rev. Drury, and the Native Americans -- besides Craig, Al Harrington, Victoria Racimo and Anthony Michael Ruivivar contribute interesting portraits -- are wasted in a script that's as dreary as it is unbelievable. Even the dog looks bored. He needs a new agent.

"White Fang 2: Myth of the White Wolf"

Starring Scott Bairstow and Charmaine Craig

Directed by Ken Olin

Released by Disney

PG

**

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