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"THE WOOD"
(1999) (Taye Diggs, Omar Epps) (R)

Alcohol/
Drugs
Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Frightening/
Tense Scenes
Guns/
Weapons
Moderate Mild Heavy Minor Mild
Imitative
Behavior
Jump
Scenes
Music
(Scary/Tense)
Music
(Inappropriate)
Profanity
Mild None Minor *None Extreme
Sex/
Nudity
Smoking Tense Family
Scenes
Topics To
Talk About
Violence
Extreme None None Moderate Mild


QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: Three twenty-something friends reminisce about growing up in Inglewood, California as one faces pre-nuptial jitters.
PLOT:
Mike (OMAR EPPS), Roland (TAYE DIGGS), and Slim (RICHARD T. JONES) are three twenty-something guys who've been inseparable friends ever since they met at an Inglewood, California middle school. When Roland gets a serious case of prenuptial jitters on the day he's to marry Lisa (LISARAYE), he's discovered quite inebriated at the home of his former girlfriend, Tanya (TAMALA JONES).

Knowing they only have several hours to get him sober, convince him that marriage is okay, and get him back in time for the wedding, Mike and Slim do whatever it takes to achieve those related goals. As they retrace their steps through various locations they frequented in the past, they reminisce about the memorable moments from their school days.

As such, fourteen-year-old Mike (SEAN NELSON) arrives in Inglewood in 1986 from North Carolina, and is instantly befriended by Roland (TRENT CAMERON) and Slim (DUANE FINLEY) in the school yard. Since he's initially somewhat gullible, the two aren't above betting Mike to do any number of things, including grabbing a certain pretty girl's rear end.

Already smitten with Alicia (MALINDA WILLIAMS), Mike tries to do just that, but gets slapped instead, and must then face the reprisal of her gangster brother, Stacey (De'AUNDRE BONDS). That eventually settles down and as the intervening years pass by, the three friends go through various stages of growing up and interacting with girls -- all, of course, accompanied by bets -- ranging from getting the most telephone numbers at a dance to being the first to lose their virginity.

As the present and past lives of the three friends are interwoven, Mike and Slim do what they can not only to persuade Roland that marriage is the right thing for him, but to get him to the ceremony before all three find themselves in big trouble with everyone at the wedding.

WILL KIDS WANT TO SEE IT?
Aimed at a black audience, the film might draw teens who are fans of someone in the cast or simply want to see a picture featuring a black cast, but it's unlikely many kids will ultimately want to see it.
WHY THE MPAA RATED IT: R
For strong language and some strong sexuality.
CAST AS ROLE MODELS:
  • OMAR EPPS plays the film's adult narrator who tries to convince his friend to get married.
  • TAYE DIGGS plays that friend who's so scared to get married that he went out, got drunk and ended up at his former girlfriend's home (nothing happens between them despite his inebriated advances toward her).
  • RICHARD T. JONES plays their other friend who cusses a lot and has little tolerance for Roland's shenanigans. He also believes that wives should follow their husband's careers and not vice-versa.
  • SEAN NELSON plays a young and somewhat naive teen who's recently moved to Inglewood from North Carolina. Easily influenced by his two new friends, he enters several girl-related wagers with them, including losing one's virginity that he finally does with Alicia.
  • TRENT CAMERON and DUANE FINLEY play those two friends who somewhat corrupt/help change Mike from that young and gullible student into more of a sex-crazed older teen.
  • MALINDA WILLIAMS plays the young and confident teen with whom Mike is smitten. She later becomes a good non-romantic friend of his, but they eventually end up having sex.
  • De'AUNDRE BONDS plays Alicia's gangster brother in the past who smokes pot, beats up Mike, and robs a convenience store at gunpoint.
  • CAST, CREW, & TECHNICAL INFO

    HOW OTHERS RATED THIS MOVIE


    OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
    Sitting around with a group of friends reminiscing about the past is often a fun activity. Reliving one's former experiences, reveling in the memories and/or laughing about previous mistakes or events that once seemed important, but now seem trivial or antiquated, can be quite enjoyable and often makes the "daydreamers" feel young again.

    Listening to others doing the same isn't quite as much fun since you don't share their common experiences, but can be interesting if you know the people and/or their stories prove to be entertaining. If the storytellers are complete strangers, however, and their stories are of the "you really needed to be there" variety, sitting through such recollected tales can quickly become a boring and distancing affair.

    Such is the case with the release of "The Wood," a film similar in structure to 1995's "Now and Then," but obviously different in that it's about a group of black men, instead of white women, who come together to help a friend in need. As such, this ensemble comedy about three friends reminiscing about their past in Inglewood, CA (thus the "wood") while trying to get one of them sober and then to the altar has its moments, but overall comes off as a mediocre affair at best.

    Although the film is based on writer/director Rick Famuyiwa's (making his feature film debut) memories of growing up in the middle-class African-American neighborhood of Inglewood and hanging with his pals, its "coming of age" story certainly isn't novel material.

    While its hook is that it's told from a black perspective, the story's not tremendously different in its universal theme from say, the exploits of Richie, Ralph and Potsie on the old TV show "Happy Days," and Kevin Arnold and Paul Pfeiffer growing up on "The Wonder Years." Certainly different in its storytelling approach -- and this one's obviously filled with more "adult" content -- they all tell their tales to which most everyone -- especially if you're a guy -- can relate.

    Where this film stumbles, however, is the way in which it delivers its story and in particular, the underlying structure it uses in doing so. While other pictures have been successful at handling concurrent storylines where the one from the past arises from the contemporary story (such as the aforementioned "Now and Then," as well as "Fried Green Tomatoes" and the recent "This is My Father"), this one mishandles the format in several ways.

    For one, the present day story regarding the two friends trying to convince the third to fulfill his marriage promise and then get him to the wedding in time is ultimately less than compelling. While that's often the case with similarly constructed films -- where the flashback story is the stronger of the two -- the story here, despite the time deadline, doesn't have much urgency, forward thrust or particularly compelling characters.

    While the three adult friends embodied by Omar Epps ("The Mod Squad," "Major League II"), Taye Diggs ("Go," "How Stella Got Her Groove Back") and Richard T. Jones ("Event Horizon," "Kiss the Girls") have the requisite handsome looks along with the potential to be interesting, we never get the chance to find out if that's true.

    Although the performers have plenty of inherent charisma, writer/director Famuyiwa doesn't allow them to fully utilize it. We know next to nothing about them beyond their initial characteristics, and instead of developing them in any significant way, the freshman director instead relies on them breaking the "fourth wall." That's where the characters directly address the camera to impart information to the audience when not doing so via the completely unnecessary voice over narration.

    The former device can be fun if used properly -- such as in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" -- but Famuyiwa only manages one clever, and brief moment with it. Otherwise, the effect is sporadically used and rarely funny. While I understand that the present-day characters are meant to be just introductory to those in the past, they're obviously connected. Thus, for us to care about one set, we similarly need to do so for the other.

    It's the flashback plot, however, the causes greater problems. Whereas most similar movies have a congruous plot -- that may occasionally jump forward through time but generally continues with one key story -- this one is best described as episodic. With the only unifying theme being the three guys and their various exploits growing up together -- particularly regarding women -- those events never really connect with each other, let alone the audience in much of a satisfying manner.

    Although a few of them contain some mildly charming or funny moments, for the most part they're uneventful and never come together to make an interesting or compelling story. It doesn't help that Famuyiwa's script occasionally contains stilted dialogue that not only sounds artificial and occasionally bad enough to induce howls, but also derails the performers' attempts to bring some much needed believability to their characters and the overall proceedings.

    Regarding the performances, Sean Nelson ("American Buffalo") is the most appealing of the trio as presented during their younger years and delivers a winning performance. Meanwhile, Trent Cameron and Duane Finley (both making their big screen debuts) are decent, but not very memorable in their outings.

    Malinda Williams ("High School High") nicely fulfills the pretty, but initially romantically defiant young woman character who's often found in such stories, while De'aundre Bonds ("Get on the Bus") is okay as her young thug brother, but neither can really make their characters come alive.

    While the film thankfully manages to avoid many of the traditional stereotypes found in comedies featuring a predominantly black cast -- most of them here aren't thugs or idiots -- it doesn't eliminate all of them. Although teen-based sex comedies featuring white kids are a dime a dozen, and films featuring black casts certainly have just as much a right to play off such subject matter, it's too bad this one had to succumb to that last stereotype.

    Although the characters here are presented as more intelligent than most films of this genre, one has to wonder why there can't be the black "Stand By Me" or "October Sky" that shows black kids as something other than sex-crazed youngsters constantly talking about "getting some booty" or betting who will get "lucky" first. So many similar films have already come down the pike over the years that this one didn't need to join the ranks.

    I'll now step down from my soapbox, but will reiterate that it's a shame this film didn't take a higher road -- so to speak -- in telling its tale. Occasionally funny, but too episodic for its own good, the film has its moments, but is otherwise a rather unremarkable experience. As such, we give "The Wood" a 4 out of 10.

    OUR WORD TO PARENTS:
    The following is a brief summary of the content found in this R-rated comedy. Profanity is extreme due to more than 60 "f" words, along with many other profanities and colorful phrases. Sexual content also gives its category an extreme rating. A great of sexually related comments are made, several varied sexual encounters occur, and some male rear nudity is seen.

    Brief drug use (marijuana) occurs in one scene, while for the first half of the film one of the major characters is drunk or recovering from/reacting to being in that state. The three teens see young women as nothing but sexual objects and/or conquests, while in adulthood they have attitudes that many women may also find offensive. Other bad attitudes are also present.

    Beyond some brief violence (a person getting beaten up, a robbery at gunpoint, etc...), however, the film's remaining categories have little or nothing in the way of major objectionable content. Nonetheless, should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness for yourself or anyone in your home, you may want to take a closer look at the listed material.



    ALCOHOL OR DRUG USE
  • We see some cases of beer and wine being delivered to a house for a wedding.
  • In the present, the guys learn that Roland is "jacked up" (drunk). They then go over to his old girlfriend's house and find him that way (and later see him vomit because of that).
  • We see some beer and ads for beer in a convenience store.
  • Some gang members drink from brown paper bags in a parking lot.
  • Stacy and his friend share a joint, ask the three guys if they want any, and then make fun of them for not accepting it. Stacy then goes on to say that everyone smokes weed and that he wants to record a rap album about smoking weed.
  • People have wine/champagne at a wedding reception.
  • BLOOD/GORE
  • Mike has a little bit of a bloody lip after he's been in a fight.
  • We see Roland vomit quite a bit (due to being drunk), all over his hand, and in Slim's truck and against its window. Later, others adversely react to the smell of them and their clothes.
  • DISRESPECTFUL/BAD ATTITUDE
  • On his wedding day, Roland gets cold feet, and has gotten drunk and gone to his old girlfriend's house where he tries to put the moves on her.
  • The guys -- back in their school days -- constantly ogle girls and comment on their body parts. Later, and in high school, they have a betting contest to see who will first "get some" (have sex). They then try to force/convince girls to have sex with them using a variety of reasons/excuses.
  • Roland and Slim agree to pay Mike a dollar if he'll grab Alicia's butt and then run away.
  • Stacy beats up Mike and then he and a friend hold up a convenience store at gunpoint.
  • When Roland says that he'll follow his fiancÚ and her job, Slim says that's wrong and that he needs to wear panties. Mike then agrees that the woman should follow the man.
  • FRIGHTENING SCENES
  • Although it's not really played much in this sense, some may find a scene where a masked man robs a convenience store at gunpoint as somewhat suspenseful (although it turns out to be Stacy).
  • Done in a somewhat comical fashion, Mike goes through Stacy's bedroom looking for a condom just as the thug comes home with a girl and heads toward the bedroom.
  • GUNS/WEAPONS
  • Handgun: Used by Stacy to hold up a convenience store.
  • Handguns: Worn by cops who have their hands on them when they pull over Stacy and others.
  • IMITATIVE BEHAVIOR
  • Phrases: "Shut the f*ck up," "Bone" and "Getting busy" (for sex), "Nigger" (said many times by black people), "Pissed off," "Jacked up" (drunk), "Punk," "Booty," "Ho'," "Whore," "Fool," "Shut up," "Bitch ass," "Honeys" (women), "Stupid ass," "Bitch," "Balls" (testicles) and "Nuts" (crazy).
  • Slim makes the gesture for male masturbation in response to a comment that Roland makes.
  • Roland and Slim agree to pay Mike a dollar if he'll grab Alicia's butt and then run away.
  • JUMP SCENES
  • None.
  • MUSIC (SCARY/TENSE)
  • A tiny bit of suspenseful music occurs.
  • MUSIC (INAPPROPRIATE)
  • While we didn't hear anything, some songs are present with lyrics that couldn't be understood, so it's possible some material may be present.
  • PROFANITY
  • At least 61 "f" words (12 used with "mother," 3 used sexually), 63 "s" words, 4 slang terms for female genitals ("p*ssy" -- written once -- and "cootchie"), 3 slang terms for male genitals ("d*ck"), 1 slang term for breasts ("t*tties"), 30 damns, 28 hells, 26 asses and 3 uses of "G- damn," 2 each of "My God" and "Oh my God" and 1 use of "God" as exclamations.
  • SEX/NUDITY
  • When Mike first talks about the "wood," he says it's not what we think it is (a slang term for penis), but that it's about his neighborhood, Inglewood.
  • There's a poster on a wall of a woman who shows some cleavage.
  • Back in the guys' middle school years, they (and the camera) focus on girls' butts.
  • Mike mentions in voice over that it was early in the morning at school, but that his hormones were wide awake. When called to introduce himself to his class, he looks down to his crotch and says "Please go down." He then walks to the front of the class with a book covering his never- seen erection.
  • One of the guys says that he'd like to "hit a home run" with Alicia.
  • Mike mentions that a certain girl was his first love and "his first..." and then thrusts his arm out to suggest sex.
  • Rather drunk, Roland tries to put the moves on his old girlfriend and slaps her on the butt. He then recites a line from a song, "Making love forever." Slim then asks Tanya, "You didn't f*ck, did you?" and she says that they didn't. Roland then tells Mike and Slim that they have to leave because "I'm trying to get into that...did you see that? Her booty is rotund. I'm going to make her booty jiggle." Slim then realizes that Roland's afraid to get married because of "all the p*ssy" he's going to be giving up.
  • In the past, the guys look at Alicia and comment on her "booty" saying "I bet it's soft. I'd love to grab that ass."
  • Commenting on having just robbed a convenience store, Stacy's friend says that he just wanted to get some rubbers.
  • At a school dance, a teacher separates a couple from suggestively dancing where the guy was rubbing his crotch against the girl's butt as she partially bent over.
  • Mike mentions that the power of horniness makes one forget everything else. Then, when he's slow dancing with Alicia, he comments that all he was thinking was "don't get hard." He then comments that he was in "full salute" and was going to blow, and thus dances with her at a distance. When she pulls him back in as the song ends, she evidently feels his erection as she quickly backs off with a disapproving look on her face.
  • Forced to wash themselves outdoors, we see the three friends (as adults) spraying themselves/each other with a garden hose. As such, we see Slim and Roland's bare butts and then see Roland standing there completely nude with only his hands covering his crotch and Roland comments on "shrinkage" (related to his genitals in the cold water).
  • In high school and talking via voice over, Mike says that he's a breast man when looking at the high school girls passing by. He then mentions that school was all about "sex, the wild thing, the nasty..."
  • The guys (in high school) talk about girls not wanting "to give it up" (have sex). They then agree to have a betting contest to see who will have sex first (one says, "Put your money where your d*ck is"). We then see their repeated attempts at having sex with the ladies, as well as the jar of money for collecting their bets that's labeled "P*ssy Pot."
  • As such, we see Mike and his girlfriend sitting on a bed with his hand up her skirt and her reacting in a pleasured way (and saying "Right there..."). He then says that they should do something else, that they should make love.
  • Another girl tells Roland, "You want to put that inside me? It's so nasty."
  • One of them tells a girl that he'll get "blue balls" and that his "d*ck will swell up and explode" if he doesn't have sex.
  • We see Mike pouring ice water down onto his crotch (that we don't see) to calm himself down.
  • Mike and Alicia talk about sex and he mentions that he and his girlfriend have done everything but "it." She then says that "doing it ain't easy" and jokingly asks why he isn't "getting none." She then somewhat suggestively adds that maybe he needs to find someone who wants to do it as badly as he does.
  • Mike and Alicia start making out in her bedroom while dancing. He then leads her over to her bed and she unzips his pants and asks if he has any protection. He then pulls out a condom (that we see) and with his back turned to her, puts it on (we can tell what he's doing, but can't directly see it). He then walks back over to the bed (where she's now under the covers) and she looks at his penis (that we don't see) and asks if that's the way the condom's supposed to look. He says yes, and then gets into bed and crawls on top of her under the covers. She tells him to go slow and warns that if he hurts her, she'll slug him. As he tries for penetration, she says "What are you doing? Not there" (implying he was in the wrong place). He apologizes and then succeeds. She finds it painful, but then they discover that the condom broke. He says that they don't really need one, but she insists that they do and sends him off to her brother's room to borrow one of his.
  • There, Mike looks around, finally finds one, but then hears Stacy and a girl coming into the room, making out. Mike then hides under the bed and we then see this girl undoing Stacy's pants as he lies back on his bed. The girl then asks Stacy what happened to his rubbers, that he had four, but only has three now (and asking him who he's "f*cking"). As such, they don't do anything else and leave and Mike then returns to Alicia's bedroom.
  • We then see Mike on top of Alicia again under the covers. We then hear some heavy breathing and see some movement (under the covers). In just a few seconds he's done, rolls off her and she asks, "So that's it?" and he says yes.
  • The bride and some of her bridesmaids show cleavage in their dresses.
  • SMOKING
  • None.
  • TENSE FAMILY SCENES
  • None.
  • TOPICS TO TALK ABOUT
  • The guys' attitudes about marriage, sex, and women overall.
  • Teenage sex.
  • VIOLENCE
  • Alicia hits Mike for trying to run up and grab her butt.
  • Upset that Mike tried to make a move on his sister, Stacy pushes Mike backwards and then does the same to Slim when he tries to intervene. Mike then slugs Stacy, who then proceeds to repeatedly punch Mike in the face and gut until Alicia slaps him to make him stop.
  • Stacy holds a gun on a convenience store clerk as he and a friend rob the place.
  • Slim hits Roland with his tux jacket for vomiting in his truck. The two then briefly tussle, but nothing else happens.
  • The bride's father holds Roland by the head/neck at her door to get him to apologize.



  • Reviewed June 11, 1999 / Posted July 16, 1999

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