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Rainbow Connection

Follow Me Home
Frank Masi

On the Road Again: Alfre Woodard travels to west in "Follow Me Home."

Politically evolved "Follow Me Home" is old-fashioned melodrama

By Richard von Busack

IS IT BEST to battle against right-wing oppression with left-wing schmaltz? Peter Bratt, the former UC­Santa Cruz political-science major who wrote and directed Follow Me Home, would seem to have thought so. Follow Me Home has been a hit on the film-festival circuit and wildly popular when sold to an audience of nonwhites desperate to see their images in something other than action movies.

Four men decide to drive to Washington, D.C., on a guerrilla mission to paint the White House rainbow-colored. Their van contains different classes of people of color: Abel (Benjamin Bratt from TV's Law and Order), a quick-tempered, trash-talking homeboy with a gun; Tudee (Jesse Borrego), a Chicano artist tormented with fears of selling out in L.A.; Freddy (Steve Reevis), the calm, Native American spiritual center of the bunch; and Kaz (Calvin Levels), an African American whose nonviolence is constantly being put to the test.

On the way, they pick up Evey (Alfre Woodard), who carries a mysterious bundle. The ensemble is dry-gulched by a pack of racist white stereotypes who must have been waiting for this opportunity since the last Billy Jack movie was completed, sometime in 1977. Hearing guns, the crew reaches for its (multi) culture and triumphs.

Follow Me Home is a road movie without that most important quality of road movies: momentum. The van crawls along through central California at apparently 15 miles an hour, and the only relief from the bickering and the sun-baked countryside is Tudee's dream sequences.

One of these moments--when Tudee has a meeting with the ghost of a little girl who is the casualty of urban violence--is touching. In other magical-realist moments, Tudee is menaced by a sinister white patriarchal figure who is occasionally George Washington and occasionally Paul Gauguin: a grotesque mixed metaphor for colonization.

It's not the premise that offends me. As far as I'm concerned, someone can paint the White House multicolored, for all the good it will do. I would love to see a movie about a van full of nonwhite artists--just, why did it have to be this one?

There's nothing so excruciating as inept political theater, because it makes principles you take seriously look simple-minded. Scan a sample "subversive" interchange about the president: "I hear he has a big guard for everything he does, like when he takes a leak!' "Ooowee, that'd be a nasty job!" Check out also the scenes of Woodard--a great actor stuck in sticky melodrama--begging at the top of her lungs for something precious that the rednecks have stolen from her.

Director Bratt is careful to stress what a healing film this is supposed to be, by using a pious title and by spreading the story of how Harvard Divinity School offered him a residency after one look at Follow Me Home. But, like the Billy Jack movies before it, under the thin layer of spirituality, Follow Me Home is awash with familiar fantasies of violence and purity through victimization. I'm unconvinced that this film has deeper spiritual qualities than any other movie about being accosted by roadside maniacs.

Follow Me Home (Unrated; 104 min.), directed and written by Peter Bratt, photographed by Garrett Griffin and starring Alfre Woodard and Benjamin Bratt.

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From the May 1-7, 1997 issue of Metro

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