[Screen It]


(2001) (Morris Chestnut, Shemar Moore) (R)

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Romantic Comedy: Four African-American men try to sort out love, sex and friendship as they deal with the various women in their lives.
Jackson Smith (MORRIS CHESTNUT), Brian Palmer (BILL BELLAMY), Derrick West (D.L. HUGHLEY) and Terry White (SHEMAR MOORE) are four lifelong African-American friends who always get together for a little basketball action on the court and discussion of their love and sex lives off it.

Jackson, a doctor, has a phobia about commitment, perhaps because of the estranged relationship between his mother, Louise (JENIFER LEWIS) and father, Fred (CLIFTON POWELL). Whatever, the case, he must confront it again when he starts seeing Denise Johnson (GABRIELLE UNION), a photographer who, unknown to Jackson, formerly dated his father.

Then there's Derrick, a married man who's upset that his wife of three years, Sheila (TAMALA JONES), still isn't comfortable with the notion of pleasuring him orally. Brian, a lawyer, doesn't share that dilemma and is currently seeing Jesse Caldwell (JULIE BENZ), a white self-defense instructor, but his problem stems from his bed-hopping routine and the subsequent jealous and/or outraged behavior of his various past conquests. Then there's Terry who's decided to take the plunge and is now engaged to BeBe Fales (SUSAN DALIAN), much to the dismay of his bachelor friends.

As the men try to sort out their romantic and sexual dealings, they must contend with the various women in their lives and what each brings in particular to those relationships.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Turn on most any "nature" TV channel nowadays and you're bound to come across any number of programs featuring various animal species and most every aspect of their mating rituals. While occasionally bizarre and usually less than romantic in the human sense of the word, such choosing of mates and producing of offspring is, for most species, highly effective, even if the youngsters' chances of survival are often grim.

Humans, of course, aren't much more than sophisticated animals, and if some advanced alien society were to document our "mating habits" for some documentary presentation, it's likely that their narrator would comment on how surprising it is that the human species manages to reproduce at all.

They'd note that the males and females of the species still haven't figured out each other after all of these thousands of years of "civilization," and that with the increased "intelligence" of the species comes far too many differing opinions, thoughts, attitudes and emotions from each sex about the overall process. As a result, they'd also likely note the shortage of many long-term pairings and the immediate or eventual dissatisfaction of various humans with the whole procedure.

Beyond laughing at Earthlings for their silly "Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus" analogy (knowing full well that Martians and Venusians are cloned and therefore avoid the entire messy and complicated process), they'd probably state that such contradictory human behavior is secondly only to the likes of female black widow spiders and praying mantises deciding to make lunch of their mates in overall illogical reproductive patterns.

Of course, such aliens could simply watch the multitude of romantic comedies and dramas made over the decades to see how we humans perceive the mating game and ourselves. Pretty much every angle and aspect of that has been told on film from the more constrained and observationally clever comedies of yesteryear to the more blatant, no holds barred approach of recent where most every minute detail is described, discussed and/or shown on the screen.

Accordingly, one would think that Hollywood and the rest of the filmmaking world would have run dry of related stories long ago, but this week's release of "The Brothers" proves that they're not willing to give up trying just yet. Something of the male-oriented answer to 1995's "Waiting to Exhale" that featured a group of African-American women sitting around and discussing various aspects of men, romance and sex, this film simply switches the focuses of the genders and then goes for more laughs in its examination of the issue.

Since most everyone - of either sex or any race - has dealt with one or more issues presented in these sorts of films, it - like its predecessors and potential subsequent releases - is accessible to some degree or another to most viewers. That said, the work of writer/director Gary Hardwick (who makes his directorial debut after writing 1999's "Trippin'") doesn't particularly offer any new insights into any of the subject matter as presented here, and thus comes off as not much more than recycled mediocrity.

While some of the film's material is obviously directed toward its target audience of African-Americans, there are some decent laughs to be had by all. Most, of course, stem from the dialogue the characters are given to speak - which is about the only place for some originality in this sort of film - and our preview audience was often in stitches over some of what was said.

Yet, some of the more "serious" dialogue comes off as contrived and/or forced and the overall plot doesn't contain anything particularly novel or interesting enough to make the film stand out, let alone excel at what it's trying to do.

The various story developments - including one guy's engagement that doesn't make his friends happy, the woman who previously dated her boyfriend's father, and the "surprise" revelation of who gets married at the end - have been done many times before, are thus too predictable and don't give the film any sort of intriguing or engaging hook to grab and then keep the viewer interested from start to finish. As a result, all the film really has to offer are its individual comedic vignettes, but they alone can't carry the picture or make it good or particularly memorable.

Performances are generally okay for a film such as this, with Morris Chestnut ("The Best Man," "G.I. Jane"), Bill Bellamy ("Love Stinks," "Love Jones"), D.L. Hughley ("The Original Kings of Comedy," TV's "The Hughleys") and Shemar Moore ("Hav Plenty, TV's "The Young and the Restless") playing the four principal friends. Chestnut gets the meatiest role - with him and Moore showing off their buff bods to appease the ladies - but none of them can do much with the material that begins to unravel just as the various story threads are brought together at the end.

Among those embodying the opposite gender, Gabrielle Union ("Bring It On," "She's All That") and Jenifer Lewis ("The Preacher's Wife," "Girl Six") are decent if unremarkable in their respective parts, while Tamala Jones ("Blue Streak," "The Wood") gets the unflattering role of dealing with her husband's oral fixation, a plot element that concludes just as everyone expects it will.

Overall, that's pretty much the film's main fault. With recycled characters, individual stories, and plot developments, little of what transpires feels fresh or original. Sporting a few decent laughs but not much in the way of anything profound regarding the whole man/woman thing, the film is likely to blend in with any number of other mediocre such efforts and soon be yet just another familiar sounding title on the rental shelves.

Had the film taken more of an edgy and irreverent approach - along the lines of one character's titular response, "Breathe, Bitch" to "Waiting to Exhale" - it may have been more interesting and far more amusing and perhaps even insightful. Unfortunately, that's not the case and "The Brothers" thus rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed March 13, 2001 / Posted March 23, 2001

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