The story takes place in alternative America where the blacks are members of social elite, and whites are inhabitants of inner city ghettos.
A disgruntled ghetto worker is unjustly fired from his job and beaten up by racist cops, so kidnaps his wealthy ex-boss to extort enough money to get back the home his family have been evicted from. The difference is that the underdog, Louis Pinnock (Travolta), is white, and the plutocrat, Thaddeus Thomas (Belafonte), is black, and the world of White Man's Burden is a mirror-image America in which black people are the upper classes and whites deal crack and get shot in parking lots.
It has a certain dose of the grim and gritty, getting frissons from subjecting a working class white guy to a Rodney King-style nightstick massage or a rich, liberal mother's distaste when her son brings home a white girlfriend. But this mostly resembles a double-length episode of Sliders, the TV show that offers different alternate Americas as thinly conceived and cheaply created as this one every week.
This is probably going to stand as the dud in Travolta's current run of hits, though he is better here than he was in Broken Arrow or Phenomenon, giving service above and beyond the call of the script as he aches over his son's choice of an expensive black superhero doll as a birthday present, or frequently explodes with ill-educated wrath at the system and sundry innocents. Belafonte, skulks in cashmere and never strikes sparks.
Man's Burden is not entirely without interest, but it is fairly flat and unsatisfying.