Baby Boyz

Dayton City Paper | August 5, 2005
Grade: B-

Rated: R

Although John Singleton is known mainly for his socially conscious dramas, he’s been known to cut loose and have some no-strings fun every once in awhile. Although his underrated remake of Shaft was full of grit and depressed settings, the social themes of Richard Roundtree’s original (black detective caught between white cops and black gangsters, two groups Shaft loathed on an equal basis) were essentially jettisoned in favor of plot and humor, resulting in a pleasant if insubstantial good time.

Four Brothers transplants the drama to Detroit from Singleton’s usual Los Angeles playground. While it nonetheless does unfold in a familiar Singleton realm, a low-income neighborhood whose frequent snowstorms and absence of pedestrians makes it resemble a crumbling necropolis, it belongs with Shaft on the lighter side of the Singleton canon.

Two masked thugs burst into a convenience store, rob the few paltry dollars in the register, and murder the clerk and the lone customer, an elderly woman. It’s the latter that concerns the brothers of the title. Her name was Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan) and her home was apparently a way station between broken and foster homes. However, this particular gang of four — Bobby (Mark Wahlberg), Angel (Tyrese Gibson), Jeremiah (Andre 3000 née Benjamin), and Jack (Garrett Hedlund) — were permanently damaged goods, so they remained in Evelyn’s home and came to know her as "Mom."

Investigation and revenge are on their minds when they converge for Evelyn’s funeral, immediately attracting the attention of neighborhood historians, and so it isn’t long before they’re in the crosshairs of both the local police and the homegrown criminal element. For Evelyn’s death, as it turns out, was not just a random act of nihilistic desperation.

Some of the initial story developments are a bit clunky and implausible, as is some of Wahlberg’s bare-headed bravado, but the plot eventually settles down into a pleasurable, intricate knot by the midpoint, possibly aided by the fact that we’ve come to care about the characters by this time. The actors acquit themselves well, especially OutKast singer André Benjamin. Another revelation, playing the part of the chief villain, is Chiwetel Ejiofer, who was so memorable as the kind-hearted, soft-spoken hotel clerk in Dirty Pretty Things. Given his limited body of notable work to date, seeing him now play such a sadistic kingpin (and do it so well) was, to say the least, startling.

Although Singleton frames the action in his usual punishing style, it’s seldom as powerful as Boyz in the Hood and Baby Boy (my personal favorite Singleton picture), but, as with Shaft, it’s an agreeable way to pass the time.

Dayton City Paper

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