Friday, March 23, 2001

Chumming, not slumming

Movie: The Brothers

Posted on Fri, Mar 23, 2001 at 4:00 AM

****1/2
Our Rating: 4.50

Like any other group of childhood buddies, the four stars of "The Brothers" gather to shoot hoops, hang out and discuss their relationships. Like many men, they can't escape problems with the opposite sex. And as with any coterie of upper-class American guys, the evidence of their success is legion: fast cars, solid careers, GQ looks, sumptuous homes. "We're the cream of the crop," they agree.

What makes them stand out? They're African-American professionals, a demographic that's still under-represented on the big screen. Writer/director Gary Hardwick has distilled their experiences into an amiable, engaging and personal film.

We hear the most from pediatrician Jackson Smith (Morris Chestnut), whose history of divorce clouds his outlook on forming a family with Denise (Gabrielle Union), a woman who, coincidentally, dated his father. Banker Derrick West (D.L. Hughley), though married, is conflicted over personal issues: He can't seem to agree with his wife about their sex life. Single playboy Terry White (Shemar Moore) stuns the group by announcing that he wants to get hitched. And attorney Brian Palmer (Bill Bellamy) just can't get any of it right, including making up his mind as to what sort of woman he fancies. (Asked for an answer to "Waiting to Exhale," he suggests a book entitled, "Breathe, Bitch!")

They may have relationship issues, but these "Brothers" are comfortable with their societal roles. The film avoids the ghettoized approach of "Juice" and the "Friday" movies, yet doesn't compensate with the sort of cultural self-justification that went out with George Jefferson. Instead, its protagonists are free to exist as characters -- or at least the juiciest attributes thereof -- and the story can get on with itself.

It doesn't hurt that the actors, most with backgrounds in TV, are uniformly excellent. Overall, the picture bodes well for filmmaker Hardwick, a stockbroker's son who started as scriptwriter for the undistinguished 1999 comedy "Trippin.'" "The Brothers" offers white audiences a slice of Americana they'll find interesting enough to learn more about, as interpreted by a filmmaker who looks like he has even more to say.

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