I also suggest you try mandriva, it is sometimes quite good with laptops.
If you try to boot with the option single you might be able to go to a command
line and run xorgconf / xorgconfig
Vesa driver should work, and you could try this first.
You could also try a live distro like knoppix if you want to reassure yourself that there is a video mode available that linux understand (and there will be)
It really sounds like a frambuffer / video card badly recognised
PS:  or misconfigured indeed. I did not watch out my English