Baby Boy

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Baby Boy

John Singleton is a filmmaker of outsized strengths and weaknesses, but his post-Boyz N The Hood career has found him fighting a mostly losing battle against his tendencies toward didacticism and self-indulgence. With Baby Boy, he returns, geographically and thematically, to his roots in South Central L.A., and much of the film's first hour feels like a worthy companion piece to Boyz. Model, singer, and MTV personality Tyrese Gibson stars as the film's titular man-child, an emotionally stunted, overgrown adolescent with an Oedipal complex who lives with his mother even though he's fathered two children of his own. Unemployed and without direction, Gibson gets a much-needed jolt when his mother takes up with smooth-talking, sharp-dressing tough Ving Rhames, who possesses little patience with Gibson's lack of initiative. A great actor often stuck in thankless roles, Rhames gives an unforgettably charismatic performance. Until he all but disappears an hour in, Baby Boy captures just about everything that can make Singleton an exciting filmmaker. Assisted by David Arnold's haunting score, the movie's first half paints a vivid, funny image of the joys and dangers of inner-city Los Angeles, where the threat of violence lends poignancy to even the most minor interactions. But when Rhames departs, so does much of Baby Boy's focus and energy. Where the film at first recalls Boyz N The Hood's sociologically charged immediacy, its second half recalls the shrill, heavy-handed melodramatics of Singleton's Poetic Justice, which reduced the war of the sexes to one long, migraine-inducing shouting match. As Gibson tries to do right by his baby's mother and battles her ex-con ex-boyfriend (Snoop Dogg), Baby Boy begins to feel aimless, repetitive, and heavy-handed, the work of a filmmaker chronically unable to quit while he's ahead. What begins as a welcome return to form ends as just another overlong mess from a gifted director yet to make good on the promise of his landmark debut.