Baby Boy

2001, Movie, R, 110 mins


Or, how John Singleton got his groove back. After the big-budget action of SHAFT, Singleton returns to the place he knows best — South Central Los Angeles — for this warm and very funny companion piece to his explosive debut, BOYZ N THE HOOD. The film opens with a startling, but oddly appropriate, image: A full-grown, African-American man lies curled within a giant womb, suspended somewhere between the world of his mother and a life of his own. The man is Jody (singer, model and MTV VJ Tyrese Gibson), a 20-year-old child in a man's body who, like other adult men who refer to their girlfriends as "mamas" and their homes as "cribs," hasn't matured far past puberty. Jody has no real job to speak of; he still lives at home with his mother, Juanita (A.J. Johnson) and, in his abundant spare time, he puts together model cars. As if to prove the truism that you don't have to be a man to be a daddy, Jody has fathered two small children by two different women, Yvette (Taraji P. Henson) and Peanut (Tamara LaSeon Bass), resourceful gals who are dutifully raising their kids while Jody hangs out with his best friend Sweetpea (Omar Gooding, Cuba Jr.'s brother). This cozy, extended adolescence is disrupted when an ex-gangsta named Melvin (Ving Rhames) moves in with Juanita, threatening to displace Jody in both his mother's house and her affections, and Jody's inability to remain faithful pushes his relationship with Yvette to the breaking point — a bad situation that only gets worse when Yvette's old boyfriend (Snoop Dogg) is released from prison. Far removed from the bitches 'n' hos mindset of his inferior imitators, Singleton is careful to continually balance Jody's incorrigible behavior with a tart response from the ladies in his life; they may let themselves be used by the man they love, but they're never played for fools. Superbly acted by everyone involved (Rhames does his best work since PULP FICTION), the film is really more about character than plot, though frankly, at more than two hours, it could have used a bit more of the latter. Singleton nearly scrapped this project when his original choice for the lead, Tupac Shakur, was murdered in 1996. While Gibson makes an impressive replacement &151; he's clearly a star in the making — Tupac's spirit nevertheless looms large over the production; Jody's bedroom wall is decorated with a haunting floor-to-ceiling portrait of the slain rap artist. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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