Brooklyn Babylon

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Brooklyn Babylon

Good intentions collide with clumsy execution in Brooklyn Babylon, the latest politically and racially charged drama from documentarian and message-movie specialist Marc Levin (Whiteboyz, Slam). Yet another loose retelling of Romeo And Juliet, Babylon stars Tariq Trotter (a.k.a. Black Thought of The Roots) as a sensitive Rastafarian musician/artist living in New York's strife-ridden Crown Heights neighborhood. Newcomer Karen Goberman co-stars as Trotter's star-crossed lover, a rebellious and independent Orthodox Jew whose thuggish fiancé crashes into Trotter and his manager's car, setting off a chain of events that lead to ever-increasing racial and religious tensions. Babylon's cast (including M-1 of Dead Prez, Lord Jamar, and Slick Rick) and hip-hop-heavy score might scream rapsploitation, but, as in Whiteboyz, Levin eschews tawdry manipulation in favor of earnest drama. Still, while Levin deserves credit for taking the high road, he uses the same heavy hand he brought to Whiteboyz, with a familiar plot used mainly as a springboard for windy speechifying and ham-fisted melodramatics. But Levin has one big asset: Trotter, a gifted lyricist and performer who radiates charisma in his screen debut, even as he's saddled with dialogue and plotting that suggest a more highbrow version of the atrocious Pras/Ja Rule vehicle Turn It Up. Trotter has a nice, unforced chemistry with Goberman, which is fortunate, since they're the only characters developed beyond shrill stereotypes, with the exception of The Roots' nicely understated performance as Trotter's backup band. Performance footage provides many of the film's best moments, but when Trotter, The Roots, and Goberman are off-screen, it reverts back to a leaden, predictable drama that recalls Black & White at its least convincing. Noble to a fault, Brooklyn Babylon might fail on the side of tolerance, uplift, and understanding, but it fails regardless.

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