In this 1998 romantic comedy, Philip Seymour Hoffman is a supposedly committed activist. At the beginning of the film, he leaves girlfriend Hope Davis to protest with the "Tantoonis" in Arizona. It seems this tribe is trying to protect some burial grounds from being flooded by a dam.
Later he returns, disillusioned. The Tantoonis saved their land only to build a casino on it. What's a card-carrying liberal to do, the movie implies, if even the noble Indian is a sellout?
Several problems with this scenario:
1) "Tantooni" isn't remotely like the name of an actual Arizona tribe. It sounds like something out of Star Wars or a Tarzan movie. The result is that the tribe seems more remote and exotic than it would be in reality.
2) There may be one or two cases where tribes have built casinos on or near burial grounds. There are 400-some cases where they haven't. In other words, the situation in Next Stop Wonderland is an extremely unlikely exception, not the rule.
3) So what if the Indians used the land to build a casino? Should they have let the dam flood it instead? One of the reasons for having land is to use it for the tribe's benefit. That includes ventures such as mining, tourism, or gaming--none of which are traditional Indian pursuits.
4) Hoffman's character was hopelessly naive if he didn't realize the tribe might use the land for a casino. In 1998, the idea of building Indian casinos was well established. If he cared about this outcome, he should've investigated it. Even if the tribe kept its plans secret, which is unlikely, the surrounding communities would've publicized the possibility of a casino.
In short, Next Stop Wonderland presents a minor but typical case of stereotyping Indians. The fictional Tantoonis live in the middle of nowhere, Arizona. Their existence is defined by protesting against progress. But they're no good at it; they need the white man's help to protect themselves from development. Once they achieve success, it turns out they're insincere and amoral. In fact, they're so greedy they'd build a casino on top of their ancestors.
Other than this brief exchange about Indians, the movie was good but not great. Rob's rating: 7.5 of 10.
For more on Native-themed movies, see The Best Indian Movies. For more on Indian gaming, see The Facts About Indian Gaming.