[Screen It]

(2002) (Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan) (PG-13)

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Drama/Comedy: Despite being romantically involved with others, two lifelong friends in the hip-hop music business slowly but surely realize that they're right for each other.
Dre Ellis (TAYE DIGGS) and Sidney Shaw (SANAA LATHAN) have known each other since they met as young kids. Having grown up along with hip-hop music, the two are still in the business. Dre is a producer for Millennium Records where he's grown uncomfortable with rampant commercialism on the part of his boss, Simon (WENDELL PIERCE), in signing goofy acts such as Ren and Ten (ERIK WEINER & REGGI WYNS), the Rap Dalmatians, in an effort to sell records.

Sidney is a respected music journalist who's also writing a book on her love of and involvement in the hip-hop scene. Although the two friends are so close they practically know everything there is to know about each other, they're blind to any sort of possible romantic attraction, although Sidney's best friend, Francine (QUEEN LATIFAH), can easily see it.

Nevertheless, Dre ends up marrying Reese (NICOLE ARI PARKER), a lawyer, while Sidney starts dating Kelby Dawson (BORIS KODJOE), a professional basketball player. Despite their involvement with them, Dre and Sidney still spend a great deal of time together. Not surprisingly, their closeness progressively irritates and worries their significant others, particularly when Sidney decides to help bankroll Dre's new business of signing real artists such as Chris (MOS DEF), a cab driver who's initially reluctant to sign anything.

He eventually does, and as times passes, Dre and Sidney, as well as their significant others, eventually come to realize what Francine has known all along, and that's that the two belong together.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Most everyone knows or has known a man and woman who seemed to be perfect for each other and were seemingly the only ones oblivious to that fact. Similarly, most viewers have seen films - comedic and dramatic - that play off that very concept and hope to have viewers rooting for them to get together by the end. They'll get another chance to see such a couple in such a story again in "Brown Sugar," a predictable but mostly winning dramedy.

As penned by writer/director Rick Famuyiwa ("The Wood") and co-screenwriter Michael Elliot ("Like Mike"), the story follows the standard path and developments of most such films. It will also remind some viewers quite a bit of 2000's "Love & Basketball, yet another urban romantic drama to which this film shares many parallels (not to mention its female lead).

This time around, however, basketball (although still present) has been replaced by hip-hop. Not only does that music scene provide for much of the underlying plot, but it also supplies various performers as actors (in one supporting role and many cameo parts) as well as a "beat you over the head" form of symbolism. The latter is far too obvious and becomes increasingly irritating through its repetition and lack of as much depth as the filmmakers seem to believe is present.

During the film, various bits of voice over narration - from the female protagonist - compare hip-hop to love in ways both subtle and not. In fact, at one point that character asks, "Are we still talking about hip-hop?" Her male friend and potential lover replies that that's all they ever talk about. You'll probably agree and will undoubtedly tire of the rampant and completely unnecessary symbolism.

Thankfully, the same can't be said about the film's comic relief and other humorous bits. The film is far more enjoyable during its lighter moments, whether they emanate from or concern the lead characters or the supporting ones.

As the lifelong friends and would-be lovers, Taye Diggs ("The Best Man," "Go") and Sanaa Lathan ("Catfish in Black Bean Sauce," "Love & Basketball") make for an appealing pairing, and while one pretty much knows how everything is going to pan out, it's still mostly fun watching them go through the motions.

Far more enjoyable, however, is singer turned actor Mos Def ("Showtime," "Monster's Ball"). Playing a cab driver cum hip-hop artist, Def is nothing short of entertaining to behold, particularly when he awkwardly tries to strike up a conversation with his confident counterpart played by Queen Latifah ("The Country Bears," "Bringing out the Dead").

When all is said and done, he comes off as the most vivacious and appealing character in the film and one ends up wishing he had a bigger part or at least more screen time (particularly with his amusingly insightful comment regarding the movie "Casablanca"). Nicole Ari Parker ("Remember the Titans," "Blue Streak") and Boris Kodjoe ("Love & Basketball") show up as the main characters' significant others and deliver decent performances playing the jealous lovers.

If there's one major complaint beyond the predictable nature of it all, it's that Famuyiwa has injected various jump cuts and other visual effects that don't really belong here. Perhaps he (or some studio exec) was worried that part of the target audience - namely hip-hop fans - might be getting antsy once the focus on the music waned and thus decided that jump cuts would give the film an edgier and hip feel. Whether it does is debatable, but there's no denying that all of it's unnecessary and distracting.

Certainly nothing remarkable or memorable, the film follows its predictable course to a T. Accordingly, it offers few surprises but does contain enough charm to overcome that and warrant a passing grade. "Brown Sugar" might not be as sweet as some would like, but it's tasty enough to get a 6 out of 10 rating.

Reviewed September 30, 2002 / Posted October 11, 2002

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