Baby Boy Movie Review

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Ten years after releasing the groundbreaking Boyz N the Hood, writer-director John Singleton revisits his "young black man in the ghetto struggling against a violent end" cautionary tale, but with more humor and realism, in his newest film Baby Boy, showing that maybe baby boy Singleton's done some growing up himself.

In the same South Central Los Angeles neighborhood, real life is about to crash down on 20-year-old Jody (model/singer/VJ Tyrese Gibson). He has two children by two different "baby mamas" -- level-headed Yvette (Taraji Henson) and too-young Peanut (Tamara LaSeon Bass) -- he's unemployed, and he's still living with his own mama Juanita (A.J. Johnson). He's also clashing with his mom's new man, an aging "O.G." named Melvin (Ving Rhames) who's looking to move in; and, he's got to keep his volatile roughneck friend Sweetpea (Cuba Jr.'s brother Omar Gooding) out of trouble, without getting dragged down into more trouble himself. And to top things off, he's seeing competition from Yvette's ex-con ex-boyfriend (the inimitable Snoop Dogg).

While this all-too-familiar story of inner city woe has been done to death over the last decade, Singleton manages to keep it fresh and unpredictable by steering the plot in unconventional directions throughout the movie. He puts unusual yet plausible twists on such overplayed topics as drive-by shootings and domestic abuse, and still manages to deliver some powerful messages in the mix. And unlike the caricaturized roles in Boyz, he's created very complex characters that are more believably flawed. Instead of Laurence Fishburne's ultra-Zen and all-knowing father, we get Ving Rhames' reformed killer who wants to teach Jody how to be a man, but has very little patience for his hardheaded immaturity. Thankfully, Singleton seems to have gotten a better sense of humor these last few years (maybe Shaft loosened him up?) and peppers the movie with a number of hilarious scenes, including one where Jody walks in on a totally naked Melvin cooking eggs for breakfast.

It also seems that Singleton has great luck with putting non-actors to work in his movies. Just as Ice Cube showed his acting chops as Dough Boy in Boyz, Snoop really produces with a menacing role, and film newcomer Tyrese turns out a dramatic and varied starring performance. Singleton's women are even more stunning, especially Johnson as the tough and torn Juanita and Henson, who handles Yvette's roller coaster emotions with skill.

By refusing to be as dogmatic or overly simplistic as he's been with his other films, Singleton may have redeemed himself and his talent with Baby Boy. Perhaps now we can erase those bad memories of Higher Learning.

Do a wheelie, will ya?

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Baby Boy Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: PG-13, 2001

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