The Brothers
Director: Gary Hardwick. Cast: Morris Chesnutt, D.L. Hughley, Bill Bellamy, Shemar Moore, Gabrielle Union, Susan Dalian, Jenifer Lewis, Clifton Powell. Screenplay: Gary Hardwick.

The Brothers offers irrefragable proof that counter-programming against pernicious trends doesn't always work. Sure, it's disheartening that Hollywood-funded black cinema is by now all but limited to two genres: the Friday-modeled spastic comedy and the New Jack City-derived ghetto exposé. I am not critiquing these movies in particular so much as bemoaning that the creative opportunities and expressive registers for Hollywood's black artists are kept to such a narrow range. At the same time, a putative alternative like The Brothers is so disheartening that almost anything, New Jack City VI included, would be preferable. Ostensibly, writer-director Gary Hardwick's film comprises a sort of male Waiting to Exhale, and perhaps part of my resistance springs from an inclination to find these men's "problems"—my loving wife won't give me oral sex! my girlfriend of forever is trying to make me marry her!—half as compelling as those of their female counterparts. A separate movie in which these men's unlucky better halves told their side of these inane objections would doubtless elicit much more sympathy; in fact, when Hardwick gives the female cast members of The Brothers a one-scene shot at dishing among themselves, it is no accident that the conversation is among the film's best. (Unfortunately, still not high praise.)

All of the sexism, pandering, and charmlessness would be easier to take if it weren't delivered so crudely. I'm sure that the taste for extremes that prompted a scene where Hughley's character actively forces his wife's head toward his crotch, or another where a white female ninja kickboxes a black woman who criticizes her, or another that features a gowned-up bride holding her boyfriend hostage with a spray of bullets, was intended as a kind of reductio ad absurdum—exposing the fraudulence of these men by carrying their predicaments to the point of manifest hysteria. All other objections aside, this approach is so coarse that it doesn't work as humor any better than it does as narrative: imagine a joke that might have worked at spoken volume but not when it's SHOUTED. Now imagine a whole film of them. Partitioned off from most of the zaniness are the characters played by Shemar Moore, Morris Chesnutt, and Gabrielle Union. Moore, the new face among his better-known brethren, is being sold so obviously as the Next Black Sex Symbol that his implied charisma collapses under all the strain. Chesnutt (Boyz N the Hood) and Union (Bring It On) can be appealing performers, but the film keeps intimating, outrageously, that their couplehood is any more convincing because it's based on talk (such talk!) instead of sexual hijinks.

Notice a theme among these reactions? Believe me, I understand the zeal with which artists who are perpetually shoehorned into the same old roles in the same old movies would seize the chance to try something else. But seizing, as creative approaches go, is a lot less reliable than relaxing, refining, making sure you have something to say and an audience to say it to. The Brothers wants so much to be liked that it alienates just about everyone. Grade: D–

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