- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2001

There have been so many movies recently about young men facing the horrors of commitment "The Bachelor" and "The Best Man" immediately spring to mind that having anything original to say on the subject is by now a challenge. Surprisingly, "The Brothers" manages to tackle this well-worn plotline with a good-humored gusto that comes mostly from its strong cast.
First-time director Gary Hardwick, who also penned the script, often has referred to his film as "Refusing to Exhale," and the nickname is apt. It would have been a great alternate title for the film and probably a more accurate description of what amounts to the male answer to 1995s female-dominated "Waiting to Exhale."
Like "Waiting," "The Brothers" tells the story of four close friends: doctor Jackson Smith (Morris Chestnut), lawyer Brian Palmer (Bill Bellamy), businessman playboy Terry White (Shemar Moore) and Derrick West (D.L. Hughley), the only one of the four who is married. They keep their friendship close with a weekly basketball game that doubles as a locker-room chat/therapy session for the four.
While Derrick struggles through a difficult marriage to a woman (Tamala R. Jones) he married only because she became pregnant, the other three have been content to wallow in the joys of bachelorhood. That changes when Jackson starts to worry about turning 29, a time he sees as the turning point when wild boys should become family men.
These concerns are amplified after Terry announces his decision finally to end his playboy days and marry his girlfriend of two months, BeBe Fales (Susan Dalian). His decision stuns the other three, as Terry always has been the wildest and least likely to marry of them all.
This decision spurs the other three to re-evaluate their love lives and make some promises of their own. Jackson decides to be more serious in relationships, Derrick tries to get his wife to satisfy more of his sexual desires (in a hilarious, if lewd, subplot) and Brian vows to stop dating black women as he has only had bad luck with them (a kind of logic that can only backfire).
What easily could break down into a raunchy, boys-will-be-boys comedy keeps its feet mostly planted on the romantic side of romantic comedy, thanks largely to the equally strong, if underused, female cast. It would be a stretch to say the movie should include "and Sisters" in the title, but the film does an admirable job of showing the frustrations of both sides of the sex wars.
Clifton Powell and Jenifer Lewis do a great job as Jacksons divorced but reconciling parents, and singer Tatyana Ali is funny in a short cameo as Jacksons feminist, college-bound sister. Even Marla Gibbs of "The Jeffersons" and "227" fame has a few hilarious moments as Derricks slightly senile mother.
Gabrielle Union leads the female cast as Jacksons new love interest, Denise Johnson, a free-lance photographer tailor-made to lead the reluctant single down the aisle. For Miss Union, fresh from her stint as a cheerleader in "Bring It On," this could be the movie that launches her career, as her charisma helps her steal most of the scenes in which she appears.
Despite this strong cast, the plot is unable to keep pace. The minicrises each of the men face along the way to fulfilling their vows are hardly earth-shattering, and the lack of conflict threatens to sink the film not long after it begins.
While Terry has second thoughts on marriage, Derrick and his wife separate temporarily, and Jackson finds out that Denise is keeping something hidden from him. These setbacks seem almost obligatory, though. In true romantic-comedy fashion, the boy and girl cannot get together too soon, and, if they do, they have to have a fight in between so they can get back together in the end.
These age-old rules only amplify the lack of a strong story, which makes the films romantic ending seem all the more forced.
In some ways, "The Brothers" probably would be stronger as a TV series, as its ministories would be perfect for a half-hour comedy, but the material seems stretched too thin at movie length. These concerns dog a film that otherwise is a standout in what is fast becoming a subgenre of romantic comedies about young, black, urban professionals struggling with love, a la "The Wood" and "The Best Man."
It would be a shame if "The Brothers" were simply dismissed as fitting into this category. Even with its somewhat weak plot, the humor is far funnier and more reliable than most work by the Farrelly brothers or the latest Adam Sandler comedy.
Chalk this up to writer-director Hardwick, who seems to infuse his own life (growing up in inner-city Detroit and working his way through law school) into his work. While he could stand to work on his storytelling abilities (his previous screenplay, "Trippin," suffered from a similar weak plotline), Mr. Hardwicks skills at crafting realistic, and funny, dialogue to match the skills of his actors manages to save "The Brothers" from the romantic-comedy scrapheap.

Two and a half out of four stars
TITLE: "The Brothers"
RATING: R (profanity, strong sexual content and language)
CREDITS: Directed by Gary Hardwick. Screenplay by Gary Hardwick.
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes


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