Tag Archives: C

THE BROTHERS

Slick but superficial, Gary Hardwick’s debut feature, a comedy-drama about a group of young, upwardly-mobile black professionals in contemporary Los Angeles trying to cope with the demands of relationships and commitment, has a number of good elements: sporadically snappy dialogue, a roster of extremely attractive stars, a few nifty secondary turns, technical polish and, for the most part, swift, no-nonsense pacing. Unfortunately “The Brothers” also has problems: the script never delves very deeply into its characters, and when it tries to get serious, it turns mushy and soapoperatic. Ultimately, apart from a stream of hard language and occasionally steamy situations, it resembles a flashy television show, with moments of pure sitcom cuteness alternating with episodes of melodrama so stilted that they wouldn’t seem out of place on an afternoon sudser. The picture is considerably less than the sum of its strengths.

“The Brothers,” as the title implies, centers on four buddies, all approaching thirty, who meet periodically to play some basketball and talk over their lives. The first among equals is Jackson (Morris Chestnut), a doctor who has recurrent nightmares about being shot by a bride until he meets a woman he thinks he can really commit to–Denise (Gabrielle Union), a bright, sprightly photographer. His pal Derrick (D.L. Hughley) is married with a young daughter, but his wife Sheila (Tamala Jones) is reluctant to give him the intimacy he needs. Lawyer Brian (Bill Bellamy) is a confirmed bachelor and lady’s man; he still lives in the old neighborhood, has family issues with his mom (Aloma Wright), and is being stalked by lovers he’s previously angered while trying to hook up with new girls. And Terry (Shemar Moore) has just gotten engaged to BeBe (Susan Dalian), to Brian’s consternation. The circle expands to include Jackson’s divorced mother, an extroverted woman with strong opinions (Jenifer Lewis), his liberated sister (Tatyana Ali) and his estranged father (Clifton Powell), as well as Derrick’s elderly mom (Marla Gibbs), Brian’s younger brother (Sean P. Young) and a gaggle of girls who chase the lawyer, for one reason or another.

Mostly what all of these characters do is talk to one another: “The Brothers” is basically a gabfest, often (when the guys are riffing on the court, for example) sounding like a succession of stand-up comedy routines, sometimes (when the guys and girls are conversing) coming across like a compendium of pop-psychology cliches, and occasionally (as when Jackson and his father finally confront one another) resembling bad soap opera. A few of the situations, and more of the throwaway lines, are quite funny, but the attempt to meld the disparate elements into a coherent whole doesn’t work. And the dialogue throughout is so peppered with vulgarity that it might unnecessarily alienate some viewers who otherwise would find the story interesting. Nor, ultimately, does the picture provide anything but the easiest, most obvious answers; the final sequence, set at a wedding reception, is all too banal, tying up the plot strands in an entirely predictable way.

Still, the movie’s tolerable simply because Hardwick writes some good lines and keeps the action moving at a fairly brisk pace, and because the cast is so strong. Chestnut, Hughley, Bellamy and Moore are all likable and engaging fellows, and each is given at least a couple of moments to shine. Union is very attractive and quite persuasive, though her character seems muffled. Powell is smooth as Jackson’s dad (even if he does have to say, at one point, “I’m still your father, and you’re not going to talk to me that way!”–a line that really needs retirement), but Lewis comes on too strong as his mother. It was also nice to see Marla Gibbs, the sharp-tongued maid from “The Jeffersons,” again–even if only briefly. Her comic timing is still superb. The music score, supervised by Melodee Sutton, throbs too insistently in the background in a failed attempt to suggest sophistication and lushness.

It’s certainly good to watch a picture about African-American friends that doesn’t involve a lot of gangsta business and gunplay, and in which any mention of drugs is blissfully absent. And Hardwick’s occasionally sharp writing and mostly efficient direction mark him as a filmmaker to watch. But despite these positive elements, and the efforts of a personable cast, “The Brothers” too often comes across like one of those clumsily meaningful TV talk shows that try to provide psychological support for people in distress. It’s characteristic that the picture opens with Jackson confiding in his prissy analyst, who offers him the profound advice that he should try to get to know and like a woman before getting intimate with her. Unfortunately, much of Hardwick’s film is on that same pedestrian level. But there are moments that suggest he’s capable of something better. We can only hope he’ll fulfill their promise in due course.

BANGKOK DANGEROUS

Since Hollywood has done so many knockoffs of Hong Kong movies, surely there’s nothing inherently wrong with a Thai one. And “Bangkok Dangerous,” by the fraternal writing-directing team of Oxide and Danny Pang, certainly gets the look right. Flashy, neon-colored, slickly-cut, featuring the usual quota of slow-mo inserts, filled with ominous gunfights and soft-grained romantic interludes, drenched with gore and boasting a booming bass-heavy soundtrack, it certainly feeds the senses as well as its many models. And the plot–involving a deaf-mute hitman, his wounded best friend, the stripper girlfriend of the latter, the sweet-as-candy drugstore clerk the hero falls for, and the nefarious gang members our protagonists fall afoul of–is the same mixture of macho action, regretful angst, fervid brutality and heart-on-sleeve melodrama that the Hong Kong masters have been dishing out for decades. (The indebtedness to the conventions of the old Hollywood westerns–the young gunslinger, the fallen mentor he must avenge, the dance-hall floozie, the Machiavellian mastermind and his thuggish henchmen, the schoolmarm-like beauty who draws out the hero’s long-suppressed humanity, as well as the one- guy-against-many battles–has never been more apparent.)

The problem with the Pangs’ homage is that unlike, for instance, the classics of John Woo, “Bangkok Dangerous” seems entirely artificial and surface-oriented, a technical exercise above all else. Simply put, it’s the sizzle without the steak, a sleek cinematic body without a heartbeat. It’s a succession of set-pieces, each of them individually impressive but adding up to very little because there’s nothing between them to move us; the final effect is more exhausting than exhilarating, unlike in the best examples of this genre. As the sensitive Kong, our handicapped but hardly disabled killer, for example, Pawalit Mongkolpisit strikes all the proper poses but never comes across as anything but a convenient plot crutch–he’s obviously supposed to be a younger, leaner variant of the sort of iconic figure that Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson played in the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, the brooding fellow, laconic (here necessarily so) and drained of emotion by the brutality he suffered as a boy (in this case, he became a murderer-for-hire because neighborhood kids picked on him as a kid, as some artsy flashbacks show)–but never manages to become truly affecting. And the characters who surround him are merely cardboard figures. Some of the plot twists, moreover, are risible: after so many people have been offed, for instance, it seems more than a little absurd that an orgy of national mourning would ensue over the killing of–get this–a television executive!

Visually, though, the picture is impressive; the camerawork is often inventive (especially in the many assassination scenes–the homicide rate in Bangkok must be astronomical), the choreographing of some slaughter sequences adept, and the lighting and composition extremely professional. The throbbing score from Orange Music is a definite asset, too, though some will find it deafening. The picture also ends with a bang–one of those over-the-top gestures that the genre is famous for; in this case it’s what one could call the ultimate murder-suicide. If you should go to it, moreover, be sure to get there in time for the opening credits. They’re really cool.