We start out on the side of the four adopted brothers who reunite to find the people who murdered their mother, but they lose us in this over-violent and under-sincere story that strays from justice past revenge and into mindless vigilantism.
Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan) is a tough but warm-hearted woman who spent her life getting children out of foster care and into permanent homes. But there were four incorrigibles she could not place, and those were the ones she adopted herself. She made a family with impulse-control-impaired Bobby (Mark Wahlberg), captivated by a hot-tempered honey Angel (Tyrese Gibson), family man/play by the rules Jeremiah (Outkast‘s Andre Benjamin), and would-be rock star Jack (Garrett Hedlund).
At first, it looks like Evelyn was in the wrong place at the wrong time in a random gang-bang convenience store robbery. But then it appears to have been something more sinister, an orchestrated hit. Who would want to kill Evelyn Mercer?
Her sons do not want to wait for the police (Terrence Howard and Josh Charles) to answer that question. They go off on their own, asking questions and insisting on answers. Their preferred method of insisting involves pouring gasoline on the subject and lighting a match.
Director John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood, 2 Fast 2 Furious) knows how to film action scenes, but this time he seems to have forgotten how to make us care about the outcome. Without dramatic legitimacy, it all just seems noisy and gratuitous.
We begin as sympathetic to the brothers because of their loss. But they keep telling us how endearing and honorable and committed they are instead of showing us. Howard, the summer’s breakthrough actor following brilliant performances in Hustle and Flow and Crash shows more class and charisma in his brief appearance as a sympathetic policeman than all four of the brothers combined. A movie that has so little sense of how it comes across that it overestimates the appeal of its main characters is a struggle to sit through; one that underestimates the appeal of its other performers is a crime.
Parents should know that this is an extremely violent movie, not just in the portrayal of many violent confrontations with heavy artillery but in the almost nihilistically excessive nature of the damage. Characters drink and use drugs. They use strong and crude language, including homophobic insults. The bad guy is ruthless and enjoys humiliating other people. The movie has sexual references and situations and non-sexual nudity. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of strong inter-racial family and romantic relationships. But it is too bad that a movie that is so careful to avoid racial stereotypes in the good and bad guys descends to a cliched “spitfire” characterization of a Latina woman.
Families who see this movie should talk about how people like Evelyn Mercer can change the lives of people around them.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Singleton’s version of Shaft. And they might like to see the movie that inspired this one, The Sons of Katie Elder, a western starring John Wayne and Dean Martin. And they may enjoy seeing outstanding performances by Howard and Taraji P. Henson (who plays Jeremiah’s wife) in very different roles in Hustle and Flow (very mature material).