Good Man in Africa, A (United States, 1994)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

A Good Man in Africa, based on William Boyd's novel of the same name, is supposed to be a biting satire on the colonial attitudes of British subjects. The problem with the film is that it's frequently more tedious than funny. The story -- that of British diplomat Morgan Leafy (Colin Friels) stuck in the mythical West African country of Kinjanja -- lurches along for ninety minutes without any apparent goal. The plot line is trite, and the ending is hurried.

Not even Sean Connery, who plays Dr. Alex Murray, can save this picture. In fact, most of the solid cast is underused, including Diana Rigg, Louis Gossett Jr., and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer (who, despite second billing, is perhaps on screen for ten minutes). Ironically, it's the least-impressive performer who's in the most scenes. Hardly a moment goes by when Colin Friels' flat interpretation of Leafy isn't forced on the audience.

Since the story is told from Leafy's perspective, one would expect to find some redeemable quality in the character. Not so. The diplomat is a bumbling, selfish, boozing, womanizing racist whose main concern in life is being cleared of having obtained a sexually transmitted disease so he can go back to drinking and sleeping with women. This man is not at all likable, and being forced to spend the movie's running length in his company is an irritating experience.

None of the other characters are especially sympathetic, either. The best of a bad lot is Alex Murray, the "good man in Africa," but even his irascibility grows wearisome. John Lithgow's Fenshawe (Leafy's superior), Whalley-Kilmer's Celia, and Louis Gossett Jr.'s Adekunle are all so self-centered that it's amazing they're capable of recognizing the existence of anyone else.

The plot, which is really a loosely-connected group of short tales, revolves around the efforts of the British diplomats in Kinjanja to persuade Adekunle, the nation's new president, to sign an oil drilling agreement. Adekunle has his own agenda, however, which includes making as much money as possible using all means at his disposal. Amidst this corruption, the only one immune to bribery and blackmail is Dr. Murray, who has been in Africa for twenty-three years simply because he believes in helping people.

This has to be a low point in the career of director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy). For whatever reason, he completely misses the mark. It's all very well to sign Sean Connery, but the actor has to be given something to do. Not even the most imposing screen personality can accomplish much with the sort of part available here. There are some laughs to be had in A Good Man in Africa, but not nearly enough to make up for the interminable torture of enduring Morgan Leafy for the duration.

Good Man in Africa, A (United States, 1994)

Run Time: 1:33
U.S. Release Date: 1994-09-09
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1