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Eyes of a Witness Reviews

A made-for-TV travelogue masquerading as a movie, EYES OF A WITNESS is equal parts courtroom drama, conspiracy thriller, and safari. Bushwacking in the veldt, a jailbreak, and the hunting of an innocent fugitive can't shake this film from the stupor of prosaic helming and monochromatic acting. Mogul Roy Baxter (Daniel J. Travanti) is fearful for the safety of his idealistic daughter Christine (Jennifer Grey), a doctor in Kenya. He flies to Africa to talk some sense into her but Christine, who's on the verge of discovering a cure for sleeping sickness, refuses to leave her research project. On a routine journey, Christine, her pilot-fiance Dr. Alan Nicholson, and Baxter fly into a friendly tribal region to meet Christine's funding official, Dr. Kuboya (Fred Opondo). Just as Baxter had feared, poachers ambush the natives and government officials. Although Dr. Kuboya is gunned down by the poachers' ringleader, Shenzi (Ben Pont), Baxter is arrested for the homicide by District Police Commissioner Thomas Mambulu (Carl Lumbly). Scoffing at Baxter's claim that a small boy could clear him, the Kenyan legal system tries the American businessman for murder. Coming to terms with the American Embassy's reluctance to handle a politically dicey case, no-nonsense Baxter escapes from jail and treks to the tribe's village. Yet when the dogged Commissioner closes in, Baxter can't bring himself to identify the eyewitness, realizing the poachers will avenge themselves if accused. While his daughter frantically collects serological clues, the self-made millionaire faces the death sentence. Armed with irrefutable evidence, Christine convinces Mambulu to fly back to the tribe, where he locates the boy. After the timid youngster saves him in court, Baxter insists on returning the favor. Ignoring Mambulu's diatribe about meddling in his country's affairs, take-charge Baxter enables the tribe to defeat Shenzi and his cutthroats once and for all. Filled with pointless scenes, cliched confrontations, and Perry-Mason-Goes-Native dialogue, EYES OF A WITNESS boasts a ridiculous premise: that the Kenyan government would risk charging an American power-broker with murder. And while wallowing in Third World jail cliches borrowed from MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, the film becomes inadvertently racist. In a movie rife with implausibilities, the mother of all incredulity is surely the moment when the Ugly American does an about-face and decides not to point out the witness to Kuboya's slaying. Professionally lensed and smoothly edited, EYES OF A WITNESS serves up sun-drenched vistas and provides adequate mental aerobics for armchair detectives. Unfortunately, as the courtroom drama crawls along, viewers will find themselves ten steps ahead of every development. As portrayed by Travanti and Grey, the father-daughter combo makes a lucid case for stricter Kenyan immigration laws against daddy's-little-girl epidemiologists and their xenophobic, closet-paramilitary papas. (Graphic violence.)