Get On The Bus, released last Wednesday to coincide with the
anniversary of the Million Man March, is the story of a group of men who
make the trip from South Central Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., in an
effort to be a part of the historic event.

Reggie Rock Bythewood's script attempts to address as many issues as
possible by turning the bus into a melting pot. On board are an estranged
father, shackled by court order to his wayward teenage son, Junior; a Crip
gang member turned devout Muslim; a homophobic Hollywood movie star; a gay
couple; a wise but aging man who lived through but missed the Civil Rights
movement and is determined to make the march despite his ill health; a
half-white/half-African-American L.A. cop sickened by the violence he sees
every day; and a film student (at one point referred to as Spike Lee Jr.)
who is trying to capture it all on tape.

To cap it all off, when the bus gets stuck in a ditch, the replacement is
driven by a white Jew who, to the apparent infuriation of some of the
passengers, isn't a racist.

Although never particularly subtle, Lee's new film does try to resist the
sledgehammer approach to its subject matter that has characterized much of
his work recently and, until the end, largely succeeds.

The film's message -- that all blacks must strive for unity and brotherhood
no matter what their sexuality, socioeconomic status, etc. -- is hardly
news, but Bythewood's sharp script, peppered with crisp dialogue and smart
observation, gives the subject the freshness it needs to hold the attention
throughout.

He also provides some insightful characterization and addresses the
conflicts within the film without resorting to the idiotic stereotypes and
melodramatic excesses of John Singleton's Higher Learning.

As the trip progresses, we are gradually introduced to the characters as
they get to know one another and their own prejudices are exposed. In doing
so, the film tackles a wide variety of both both race-related and
non-race-related issues such as homophobia, interracial marriage,
black-on-black violence, religion, police brutality and harassment, the
white man's place in the Civil Rights movement, the black woman's place in
the Million Man March, the O.J. Simpson trial, the responsibility of
fatherhood, anti-Semitism and, finally, whether blacks should vote Democrat
or Republican. Lee gives us opinions on some of these matters but more
often simply weighs up each argument and then leaves it open to
debate.

A vague attempt is made to clear up exactly what minister Louis Farrakhan
stands for and whether or not he is anti-white or anti-Semetic. But
in the final denouement, it ceases to be very important.

The film ultimately isn't about the speeches the group of men go to see. As
Spike Lee himself said, "We all know what happened at the
March."

Get On The Bus is more concerned with the group as a metaphor for
black men all over America learning to put aside their individual
differences in favor of a community spirit that ends up surpassing the
importance of even the march itself.

It all nearly comes unraveled at the end when the film unnecessarily
resorts to sentimentality almost ruining a genuinely moving moment, and the
bus driver, George (Charles S. Dutton), gives a jarring speech which comes
across as preachy and merely underlines what has already been made obvious.
In the final shot, Lee can't seem to resist finally hammering the point
home to anyone who still hasn't got it by showing us Junior's discarded
cuffs, left in Washington as the group head back to the West Coast.

Still, Lee manages to avoid the excessive length that has hampered many of
his other films, with some excellent performances (most notably by the
magnificent Ossie Davis as the aging pilgrim and Andre Braugher as the
aspiring young actor ), a beautiful harmonica score by Terence Blanchard
and an even tone combining to ensure that, at 122 minutes, Get On The
Bus
never outstays its welcome.

Although this isn't in the same league as Do The Right Thing, still
far and away Spike Lee's finest film to date, it's his most coherent and
thought-provoking offering in some time.