- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

Director John Singleton toils in the ‘hood, but his latest film has a bit of the wild, wild West in it.

“Four Brothers” follows a quartet of adopted hooligans who want revenge on the men who killed their mother.

It’s a setup as old as the OK Corral, and Mr. Singleton infuses it with both urban style and old-school butt-whumping.

Our heroes do some really nasty stuff, but boy, do they look cool doing it.

The same can be said for the picture itself, an occasionally mawkish tale with flashes of brilliance. Mr. Singleton may no longer be the wunderkind who struck out of nowhere with 1991’s “Boyz N the Hood,” but he’s learned enough since then to tell a rip-roaring yarn.

The titular brothers reunite to bury their mother, killed in what seems like a random store robbery in a sketchy part of Detroit.

Each is what we’d call a bad seed, a reclamation project only his saintly mother could embrace. Bobby (Mark Wahlberg), Angel (model-turned-actor Tyrese Gibson) and Jack (Garrett Hedlund) have managed to avoid serious jail time but have little else to brag about. Only Jeremiah (Andre Benjamin of OutKast) has a family and a semblance of a normal life.

The four start nosing around their old neighborhood just to make sure the details fed to them by the police check out. They quickly poke holes in the accepted story and decide to do some undercover work themselves. That means breaking into a series of venues, flashing their guns around as if they were VIP cards and demanding answers from everyone they meet.

I guess their mother didn’t teach them manners.

They soon discover their mother’s death was no accident. Smelling blood, the four begin an elaborate revenge scheme that leads all the way to a mobster (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who makes his underlings sit at the kiddie table when they disobey.

“Four Brothers” never pretends to be anything but a romp ‘em, stomp ‘em ride, and Mr. Singleton isn’t ashamed to deliver. Two set pieces stand so far out that they pave over the film’s myriad potholes.

The first, a car chase set during the mother of all blizzards, will make viewers wonder why more films don’t blanket their own sets with ice. And a shootout staged at the brothers’ temporary home gives audiences the feeling that bullets are whizzing past their own heads.

Yet Mr. Singleton can still seem amateurish at times, despite more than a decade of film work under his belt. Having his characters interact with a ghost-type vision of their late mother draws more snickers than tears, and do we need yet another fiery Latina type (Sofia Vergara) to flesh out the story?

Having a pair of cops (Terrence Howard and Josh Charles) break down the brothers’ flaws as a means of introduction may save time, but it feels clumsy and unnecessary.

Our brothers rarely bother thinking about their mother’s belief in redemption while hunting down their prey. Early on, one acknowledges that dear Mama might have forgiven her attackers. Well, that’s one lesson the boys willfully ignore. Then again, there wouldn’t be revenge flicks if a warm hug could save the day.

Mr. Wahlberg, thoroughly in his element as a reformed thug, is the jokester of the quartet, and the grim material needs all the comic relief it can stand. The Motown soundtrack offers a second layer of comfort, even if the songs threaten to overwhelm the film’s earliest moments of mourning.

“Four Brothers” is far from flawless, but a tasty dish of revenge can be a delicious treat for two hours.

***

TITLE: “Four Brothers”

RATING: R (Extreme violence, profanity, sexual situations and strong language)

CREDITS: Directed by John Singleton. Written by David Elliot and Paul Lovett.

RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes

WEB SITE: www.fourbrothersmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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