All Aboard

SPIKE LEE'S Get On the Bus follows 12 African-American men as they travel from L.A.'s South-Central toward the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. The men, in Reggie Rock Bythewood's script, are strategically deployed to exemplify the diversity of, and the fissures within, the black community. There are Christians and Muslims, an absent father and his troubled son, a gay couple, a homophobic actor, a half-white cop, a former Crip turned man of Islam, a young UCLA film student and an old veteran of the '60s who's been downsized out of his job. There's a token white man, the Jewish bus driver who quits halfway along the trek, unable to countenance Farrakhan's role in the march. And one black man gets tossed off by his brothers--he's an obnoxious Republican Lexus dealer who sees the march as an opportunity to sell cars.

Filled with speeches, ideological debates and an aura of group therapy, ""Get On the Bus'' certainly has moments when you feel you are watching not people but position papers. Yet the wonder of this funky, heartfelt film is that its humanity easily eclipses its didacticism. Working fast and cheap (the movie was shot for $2.4 million on Super 16mm, financed entirely by the black community), Lee seems revitalized by the urgency of the endeavor. It's his loosest movie in years. A great cast, including Charles S. Dutton, Andre Braugher, Ossie Davis, Jefferson Byrd, Isaiah Washington, Wendell Pierce, Gabriel Casseus, Roger Guenveur Smith and Hill Harper, breathes life into every scene. Like the march itself--which is only briefly glimpsed--""Get On the Bus'' is conceived as a challenge to black men to take accountability for their lives. A sermon wrapped in a road movie, at its best it can stir the soul.