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IN SHORT: Surprisingly sweet and sentimental African-American dateflick. [Rated [R]]
Cranky may be a helluva lot paler than the target demo for The Wood, but he darn well knows what the title means in slang. So does writer/director Rick Famuyiwa, 'cuz he addresses that in the first minute or so of the flick. One of the main characters turns to the camera, breaking the "fourth wall", and puts it right in our faces: "What's the wood? It's not what you think it is." What "it" is is homeboy talk for the hood, that being Inglewood California, just outside of LA. Now that Cranky has suitably embarrassed himself by trying to write in street slang, I'll give up any pretension of being down with my bad self...
Sorry. Like some of the other paleface critics in the sneak screening, Cranky felt like a foreigner. Close to a third of the dialog was incomprehensible to these ears. Unlike some of the other crits, Cranky stayed in his seat. Knowing that teen-aged sex jokes, whether first hand or reminiscence can be down right fun in the universal language of embarrassment or bewilderment, I was prepared to do the best I could and enjoy what I expected to be a heavily tanned American Pie type movie.
The big surprise is that The Wood is no such thing. Yes, there are sex jokes and recollections of that arcane desire to "lose it" as promptly as possible all of which lead to some lovely gags and funny situations. But that's not the focus of The Wood, a tale of grownups recalling teenhood, thematically along the lines of Now and Then, of a couple of years back (though the principals of that flick were femme and caucasian).
In the present, we are guests at the imminent wedding of Roland (Taye Diggs) and Lisa (Lisaraye). The guests are assembled in a private house and Best Man Mike (Omar Epps) and other Best Friend Slim (Richard T. Jones) are engaged in the stealth-like search for the groom, who has gone missing. He is found, quite blotto, on the couch of his first high school love, Tanya (Tamala Jones) who doesn't want him around. The process of sobering the dude up, and it ain't as easy as it sounds, getting him back to the altar and soothing the emotionally charged, almost dumped bride take up the bulk of the present day flick. The situations presented all allow the three grown men to recall their kidlet friendship, loves, lusts, bets and all sorts of stuff that will find proper closure by the end of the flick.
We flash back between the grown men and their teen kidlet counterparts, all replaced by younger actors in the roles: 14-year-old South Carolina exile Mike (Sean Nelson) who is taught the basics of survival in the Crips and Bloods infested SoCal area his mom has moved to. Slim (Duane Finley) and Roland (Trent Cameron) dare Mike into situations that lead to potentially deadly confrontations with the gangbanger brother of fine young fox Alicia (Malinda Williams) but even that kind of template situation is twisted into a male bonding scene that has pleasant repercussions down the line.
Problem is, the actors cast as the teenkids don't particularly look like the actors cast as the grownups, at least not enough that you can easily make the jump from skinny semi-afro'd kid to pumped up shaved head late twentysomething men. Only the grown up Alicia (Sanaa Lathan) bears more than a passing resemblance to the kidlet.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Wood, he would have paid . . .
is a dateflick, regardless of demographic target. Cranky can't say if
The Wood can cross the racial boundaries black to white. He can
report that, safely snuggled beside a cluster of dating African-Americans,
he didn't mind when the ladies and gents started singing along with the
Luther Vandross songs important to the soundtrack. Sure, they didn't
pay for their seats either, but the overall reaction amongst the entire
A-A crowd was positive. While there are other African-American targeted
flicks I've sat through and recommended, The Wood is not a flick
I'd shlep a date to. Cranky eavesdropped on all the conversations and,
as I usually do, questioned the brothers and sisters afterwards. All of
'em praised The Wood.
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