There are good things in "A Good Man in Africa," and some fun, too, as it takes aim on nitwit British colonials and corrupt nationalists in a fictional former colony in Africa. But the new Bruce Beresford film is too scattershot to leave much of an imprint despite an authoritative turn by Sean Connery in the title role and some entertaining work by a few of the other actors. Connery plays a Scottish doctor of undentable integrity in the emerging African nation of Kinjanja, the only such figure in the story. At this stage of his career, he need only arch an eyebrow and the screen is his. The trouble is that he appears only at the edges of the action, and intermittently at that.
Still, he's a key figure. He holds the controlling vote on a college's board of directors, which makes him the target of desperate but feeble entreaties on the part of British Embassy underling Colin Friels, who must please both his twit of a boss and the nation's wheeler-dealer new president-elect, who caught him in bed with his wife and has him over a barrel. The doc's vote on a new construction project could make them a lot of money. Naturally, the miscreants have the juiciest roles. John Lithgow plays the pompous twit as if possessed by John Cleese, and Louis Gossett Jr., puts a slyly cynical spin on the former academic around whom the nation rallies, unaware that he cut a kickback deal with the Brits for the new nation's offshore oil. The nit and the knave are fun to have around, but they're not enough.
Moreover, the satire is blunted by the story's lapses into very conventional sex farce as the gin-soaked Friels stumbles from one complication to another with his Kinjanjan mistress, Jackie Mofokeng; his boss' daughter, Sarah-Jane Fenton; and the president's wife, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer -- all of whom have their own agendas. Diana Rigg does more than anyone has any right to expect with the most cliched role of all, the sex-starved wife of Friels' cowardly boss, who keeps laying on Friels the task of cleaning up mess after mess and keeping alive what he persists in believing is his impending knighthood.
For all his frenzied fence-mending, though, Friels' character remains rather faceless. This may be the point, but it doesn't help the drama, which turns predictable, given that the script obviously prefers the new order, flawed as it is, to the Brits, and that the antagonism between Connery and Friels obviously is destined to give way to rapprochement. "A Good Man in Africa" has its sensibilities in the right place, and sometimes its wit, too, but its shenanigans can't mask a certain shortfall.