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Wednesday, May 13, 1998

Movie: Woo

Posted on Wed, May 13, 1998 at 4:00 AM

**1/2
Our Rating: 2.50

At last, heartthrob Jada Pinkett Smith gets her star turn with top billing in a major feature, and she's not robbing banks, either. Initially, "Woo" seems every bit the fun dating film that's guaranteed to give urban 20-somethings their six bucks of fulfillment. Unsurprisingly, it's no more than that, although at times its tenuous jokes add up to a bit less.

Slim, light-skinned Darlene "Woo" Bates is a bombshell, as numerous male New Yorkers attest at the film's opening. On seeing her, workmen fly off of their bikes in the streets. Suave suit-and-tie brothers regress into total klutzes as she passes by. Woo got it goin' on. But for all of her wiles, Woo doesn't have a man.

Her cousin Claudette (Paula Jai Parker) offers up the cure when she and her boyfriend Lenny (the witty Dave Chappelle) plan to spend the night together, but find themselves saddled with little Woo instead. To save their rendezvous, Lenny sets up his best friend Tim (Tommy Davidson) on a blind date with the babe and lets fate do the footwork. Tim, a single law student with some communication problems, sprints down the hall to consult resident Casanova Darryl for help. Said stud, lovingly played by walking phallus L.L. Cool J, is a chip on this filmic board that is clustered with one-dimensional pieces and bits.

Darlene and Tim's night together plummets into a tame rendition of "Blind Date," that Bruce Willis vehicle that cast Kim Basinger as a girl you'd better straitjacket before buying a Bud Lite. And while it has numerous moments to make one laugh out loud, Woo really does its job by simply placating us. The lovebirds' meeting is an indulgence of cultural baggage plagued with cop-outs for the "Waiting to Exhale" set. For some reason, Pinkett Smith excels at such cliché-dropping. "Sisters like me do what?" just sounds better when delivered with her customary sass.

What's more, it seems reasonable that Parker and Chapelle's stupid joke of a love scene was also inspired by the hack pen of Terry McMillan. The gag, with Parker dressed in a chicken suit, feels like Marlon Wayans in "Senseless," but really is owed to Terry.

Still, for all its reliance on dumb "ghetto" humor, "Woo" is a small step for the long-lashed diva. Just one question begs asking: Since she's reaching motherhood, won't Jada soon have to look for parts that don't require exposing her ass?

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