Picks and Pans Review: Bojangles

updated 02/05/2001 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/05/2001 AT 01:00 AM EST

Showtime (Sun., Feb. 4, 8 p.m. ET)

Gregory Hines as Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is dream casting for tap fanciers. None can deny that the contemporary dance master delivers the goods when he duplicates the steps of his legendary predecessor, a pioneering black performer who died in 1949 after a career that took him from vaudeville to Broadway to Hollywood, where he hoofed with little Shirley Temple. As drama, though, this biopic isn't much of a kick.

We hear plenty about Robinson's compulsive gambling and determination to tap till he totters, but we never get a handle on his motivation. When his manager (Peter Riegert) warns that Robinson is exhausting himself with benefit performances, it's unclear whether the dancer is driven by compassion, workaholism or a simple inability to say no. The characters address the audience, but the device is more distracting than revealing. On his wedding night, Robinson confides to us that he's "not the settling-down type." "Who you talking to?" his bride (Kimberly Elise) murmurs from her side of the bed. It's only a movie, baby.

Robinson is seen caught between the white racism that limited his film roles and black criticism of his Uncle Tom image. But to sympathize more, we need to know him better.

Bottom Line: Untapped potential

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