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Baby Boy

After a stunning debut with Boyz N the Hood, director John Singleton has slowly drifted away from his singular voice. Either few people watched his films (Rosewood anybody?) or he succumbed to rampant commercialization (Shaft). Baby Boy marks a return to a more refined, classic Singleton. His message is loud and clear: a number of black men need to grow up. They refuse to act like adults, relying on their mothers and girlfriends for food, money and shelter. Singleton embodies all of these problems he sees in the character of Jody. Jody (Tyrese Gibson, Love Song) lives with his mother and has no job. He borrows his girlfriend's car to visit his other girlfriend. Each of these women has a child from Jody. Jody is young, lazy, and his life is pointless.

Singleton uses Baby Boy not only portrays the problem, he sets out to present a solution. This becomes problematic, because it happens so often that it approaches the level of preaching. Every character in Baby Boy has something to say to Jody, and none of them have any qualms about speaking their mind. It is an interesting study for a while, then quickly feels like a director railing at the audience. Jody's mother Juanita (A.J. Johnson, The Beast, Two Shades of Blue) is one of the more vocal people. Her new boyfriend Melvin (an imposing Ving Rhames, Mission Impossible 2, Bringing Out the Dead) is spending more time at home, and Jody is becoming resentful. He feels that Juanita is trying to push him out of the house. It doesn't help that Melvin is a reformed criminal, who is trying to help Jody realize the futility of his situation.

To escape the tension at his home, he spends time with girlfriend Yvette (Taraji Henson, All or Nothing, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle). He eats her food, drives her car, and stays in her apartment. He claims to love her, but everything he does speaks more of using her. Yvette loves Jody, which is why she puts up with him. Many attempts at breaking free of him fail. At times, it is easy to empathize with Jody. He is young and headstrong, and feels like he knows everything. Everybody around him is telling him how to live his life, and telling him how dumb he is. As a person, Jody is not that interesting. Singleton feels the need to ratchet up the drama, culminating in an ending of almost melodramatic proportions.

For all of its sermonizing shortcomings, Baby Boy still has a raw feel to it. Singleton wanted to show people a world many were unaware of, and he still does have vision. With the exception of Snoop Dogg, all of the actors give impassioned performances. Tyrese seems every bit of a jerk as the script demands, and Henson and Johnson have strong roles, something usually missing from other films of this genre. The effect is there, but Singleton overdoes it. Restraint is sometimes a good thing, especially when he's trying to give his own opinion to the audience. It starts off okay, then he goes on and on until his message gets lost amongst the violence and language.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
2 hours, 8 minutes, Rated R for strong sexuality, language, violence, and some drug use.

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