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MOVIE REVIEW : 'White Fang' Sinks Teeth Into Another Adventure

April 15, 1994|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although it is difficult to imagine anyone over the age of 10 getting caught up in "White Fang 2: Myth of the White Wolf," it just might connect with fifth and sixth graders. Parents would do well to consider dropping off their children at the theater and picking them up later rather than submit themselves to this less-than-riveting sequel of the 1991 success.

Ethan Hawke, star of the first film, appears at the beginning to sign off, writing to his pal Henry (Scott Bairstow) that he's going to stay in San Francisco to help rebuild the city after the 1906 earthquake. Thus Henry, up in the Alaskan wilderness, has become master to the noble White Fang, the half-dog, half-wolf super-canine. In no time the young man and the animal are caught up in their own adventure.

Native Americans of the Haida Tribe are facing starvation because inexplicably the caribou have vanished for two years. A Haida prophecy says that a wolf will lead them to the caribou, and when Henry miraculously survives a near-drowning, the Haida insist that the spirit of White Fang, whom they presume to have drowned, lives on in Henry. By the time White Fang pops up, no worse for wear, Henry, although understandably perplexed and decidedly uncertain how he can help the Haida, throws in his lot with them.

"White Fang 2" is politically correct with a vengeance that's stultifying. Director Ken Olin and writer David Fallon and their crew admirably go all out to re-create a Haida village authentically. But the actors playing the principal Haida--Charmaine Craig as a beautiful, demure Native American princess and Al Harrington as her wise chieftain uncle--are burdened with cliched characters.

With the exception of Henry, soon an adopted Haida, all the other whites are villains of the deepest dye, led by Alfred Molina's fake preacher and his sidekick Geoffrey Lewis.

Righting ancient wrongs against Native Americans on the screen has solid educational value for youngsters, but here it's been done too obviously and too heavy-handedly to engage adults. On the plus side Olin makes the most of the film's numerous action sequences. The scenery, photographed gleamingly by Hiro Narita, is gorgeous, and Henry, Craig's Lily and White Fang himself are appealing. "White Fang 2," however, really does need John Debney's thundering score, to keep its exceedingly simple story pumped up.

* MPAA rating: PG, for mild action violence. Times guidelines: The film is suitable for all but very young children.

'White Fang 2: Myth of the White Wolf'

Scott Bairstow: Henry Casey

Charmaine Craig: Lily Joseph

Al Harrington: Moses Joseph

Alfred Molina: Rev. Leland Drury

Geoffrey Lewis: Heath

A Buena Vista Pictures release of a Walt Disney Pictures production. Director Ken Olin. Producer Preston Fischer. Screenplay by David Fallon. Cinematographer Hiro Narita. Editor Elba Sanchez-Short. Costumes Trish Keating. Music John Debney. Production designer Cary White. Art director Glen W. Pearson. Set decorator Tedd Kuchera. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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