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Stop Me If You've Heard This One…

The plot is absurdly unoriginal. Four well-to-do African-American males are forced to reflect on their ideas of friendship and commitment and intimacy and relationships and life when one of the four friends announces he is getting married. This is ground already covered by “The Wood” and “The Best Man,” both released less than two years ago. And the female version of this movie (“Waiting to Exhale”) was released before any of these films. So why is “The Brothers” still worth seeing? In a word-depth.

Gary Hardwick does an excellent writing and directing job in his debut outing. Jackson Smith (Morris Chestnut) is a physician who is a severely commitment-shy player who wouldn’t know what to do with a good woman if she walked right up to him (she does, and she’s played by the lovely Gabrielle Union); Derrick West (D. L. Hughley) is a married man (wife played by Tamala Jones) whose marriage is threatened by conflict in the bedroom; Brian Palmer (Bill Bellamy) is the obnoxious attorney whose cavalier attitude towards women lands him on the wrong side of trouble, and Terry White (Shemar Moore), is the business executive with plans to marry his girlfriend of only a few months.

What makes this film work is that there is a lot more to each character than the cursory recap I provided above. The film succeeds at peeling back the layers of its protagonists to reveal their utmost vulnerabilities. But before I mislead you to think that this is an overly dramatic and serious film, let me set the record straight. This film is a comedy at heart, using drama to keep itself from becoming too silly. True, some of the dramatic elements were a bit far-fetched and forced, but overall, the comedy-drama mix was a healthy 60/40.

As for the individual performances, there won’t be any Oscars handed out here. However, the talented Chestnut offers us yet another performance showing why he deserves to be a Hollywood leading man. Hughley injects just the right amount of seriousness in his performance to offset his tendency to rely on humor. Hardwick’s creation of a married character among the four attempts to show that not every man is averse to settling down (just three out of four!). I admit, I was expecting Moore to thoroughly embarrass himself in his first major motion picture role, but he holds his own among more talented actors, never being asked to stretch too far beyond his range. The weakest link here is Bellamy. He has played this exact character in “Love Jones” and “Def Jam’s How to be a Player,” and you would think that after three times of playing the same personality that he would get it. Maybe it’s just me, but I cannot buy this guy as a credible womanizer.

The film tries to wrap up its conflicts too quickly and neatly, and I felt that this was its biggest flaw. There are issues here that realistically would take quite awhile to correct, but given that this is Hardwick’s first film, I won’t hold it against him. Females certainly will not complain with the amount of screen time devoted to Moore’s abs and Chestnut’s smile, but they may take issue with some of the thinly conceived female characters, particularly Terry’s fianc‚ (Susan Dalian), who has one particularly bizarre scene which seemed out of place, and one of Brian’s ladies (Julie Benz). But I would wager that those same women would be willing to overlook these shortcomings for the laughter they receive in return.
In the end, “The Brothers” doesn’t break any new ground. Heck, it’s not even the best out of the “Upscale, African-American” films (that would be “Soul Food”). But it does provide a few new twists on an increasingly tired story line. And that’s worth the price of admission (well, the price of a rental anyway).

April 2, 2001
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