Brown Sugar

2002, Movie, PG-13, 109 mins

Review

BROWN SUGAR
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This conventional romantic comedy asks "When did you fall in love with hip-hop?" as insistently as music journalist Sidney (Sanaa Lathan), who puts this question to everyone she interviews. Sidney herself can pinpoint the exact moment she fell: It was the day in 1984 when she met her best friend Dre, and they discovered a group of teens freestyle-rapping at the playground together. Now Dre (Taye Diggs) is a big-shot record executive, more interested in making money than producing quality music. And Sidney has just left Los Angeles and moved back home to New York, armed with a book deal and a high-profile magazine gig. The two share a happy reunion at an industry party, where Sidney first meets Dre's future wife, Reese (Nicole Ari Parker). Dre confides that his future wife is "brown sugar," a woman who's "fine, smart, classy, but not a snob and not a ho." But as their wedding plans are moving full speed ahead, Dre is rediscovering both his interest in Sidney and his love of music. After his label signs a horrible act called "The Hip-Hop Dalmatians" — a white-and-black team of rappers who call themselves Ren and Ten (Erik Weiner, Reggi Wynns) and dress in spotted coats — Dre starts to see the light. He still plans to go forward with his nuptials and Sidney vows to get over him with the help of sexy pro-basketball player Kelby (Boris Kodjoe), but this is a romantic comedy. As anyone who's seen WHEN HARRY MET SALLY knows, the sparks are bound to fly (probably at the least appropriate moment possible) after a man and a woman declare that they're going to be "just friends." The film is about as sweet as its name implies, which isn't necessarily a good thing — the obligatory break-ups and hook-ups don't seem to have much emotional impact on the characters, with the notable exception of an intense physical confrontation between Reese and Sidney. Rappers-turned-actors Queen Latifah and Mos Def deliver standout performances as the inevitable truth-telling sidekicks, and provide some much needed comic relief. Cameos by a who's who of the hip-hop scene, from members of The Roots to Beanie Sigel, litter the beginning of the movie and help establish its music credentials. But given the film's focus on the importance of hip-hop, its soundtrack — crammed with current artists though it is — doesn't make the impression it should. And though the standout exception, Cassandra Wilson's reworking of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," helps drive a pivotal moment, it feels awkward and out of place. Director Rick Famuyiwa's second film is similar in several respects to his genial debut, THE WOOD (1999), which also featured an affianced Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan and a wedding. But the dialogue is snappy and hip, and the film makes a real effort to add some unexpected twists to the otherwise formulaic story. leave a comment --Angel Cohn

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