Refusing to exhale.
Four life-long friends, lucky in their professional lives, struggle against their own flaws to find similar success in their love lives. In some ways an extended, high-budget soap opera, The Brothers sparkles with just enough wit and wisdom to sustain an audience. As a shiny disc, The Brothers has a competent technical package and a fair collection of extras.
Facts of the Case
Dr. Jackson Smith (Morris Chestnut), Derrick West (D.L. Hughley), Brian Palmer (Bill Bellamy), and Terry White (Shemar Moore) are four life-long friends who maintain their close ties at their weekly basketball games. Jackson is interested in finding love, but his recent track record and commitment-phobic dreams have left him doubting whether he ever will. Derrick is a loving husband and family man, but his wife Sheila's (Tamala Jones) refusal to perform certain sexual services drives him to distraction, wondering just how seriously his wife takes their marriage. Brian is brash and arrogant, with a dim view of women and a predilection for short-term sexual conquests. He has infuriated so many women that when he is victimized by the damages and harassment of a stalker, he has no idea which one is after him! Terry has been as promiscuous as Brian, but he is suffering from attacks of maturity.
Terry drops the bombshell on his "brothers" when he announces his engagement to BeBe Fales (Susan Dalian). Meanwhile, even Jackson is trying again, this time with gorgeous free-lance photographer Denise Johnson (Gabrielle Union). Further complicating his life, Jackson must deal with his mother Louise (Jenifer Lewis) and father Fred (Clifton Powell), whose divorce has scarred the whole family. As time passes, the seeds of discord begin to flower. Jackson finds out that Denise's history strikes too close to home, Derrick's marital discord worsens, Terry dumps yet another girlfriend, and Terry begins to have second thoughts about his future.
Despite all the problems, there is a lot of love among these couples, and with some maturity, determination and communication, these people just might put their lives back together.
This is not a guy flick.
Don't let your date/girlfriend/wife fool you into thinking otherwise. The Brothers is indeed about four financially and professionally successful African-American men, but that's just for show. The Brothers is really just another amiable, honest film that presents, analyzes, and muses upon the complexities of modern male-female relationships with side trips into racial and cultural territories. Though set up as a counter-point to Waiting To Exhale (oddly enough, also directed by a man), The Brothers is still the same sort of film, just with a more charitable view of men.
Morris Chestnut (Boyz N the Hood, G.I. Jane) is lucky, as Dr. Jackson Smith allows him enough depth to show off his talents. He has the poise and maturity to anchor The Brothers and get us to care, at least a bit, for his gentle pediatrician. D.L. Hughley ("The Hughleys," The Original Kings of Comedy) tones down the comedy into flavors of frustration and desperation that I found endearing. Shemar Moore ("The Young and the Restless") has handsome soap-star looks but a wooden delivery that needs work if he wants to make a big-screen career. Bill Bellamy (Love Jones, Any Given Sunday) has comedic talent, but here he is more a comedy routine than an actor. Of the ladies, I must make special mention of Gabrielle Union (10 Things I Hate About You, Bring It On). High-wattage smile, a vibrant personality, and screen presence all in one package. She is one to watch.
The anamorphic video transfer starts off a bit rocky with flecks and blips and digital edge enhancement at the very beginning, but quickly settles down to a quality presentation for the remainder of the film. Well-saturated colors, solid flesh tones, and excellent sharpness create a picture superior in its digital glory to many theatrical presentations. An occasional blip or fleck and a dash of edge enhancement are the only mild negatives.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is quite suitable for a comedy/drama like The Brothers. As expected, the sound is generally limited to the front soundstage, though the mix of dialogue and music is excellent. The music is bright, rich in depth and properly thumping, filling the main speakers with distinct sound, separate from and never interfering with the center channel dialogue. Just when I thought the rear surrounds would have the night off, some nifty gunshot speaker hopping caught me by surprise. Kudos to the sound folks, they earned their pay.
The package of extra content is solid for non-special edition disc. The director's commentary track is decent. Though not exactly packed with illuminating insight, Hardwick's commentary competently covers the expected ground and his "describe what's on the screen" disease is not too advanced. The "exclusive featurette" is essentially a twenty-two minute "Cliff Notes" commentary by director Gary Hardwick, except this time on video. It covers similar ground to the audio commentary, except with frequent use of film clips, but without any other cast or crew contributions as in most featurettes. I'm not sure if the featurette is surplus content or not, but at least it is not the usual PR fluff featurette. The four brief deleted scenes are welcome thanks to the inclusion of director's commentary for three of the scenes, helping the audience to understand how the scenes fit into the film and why each was trimmed.
Completing the extra content is a music video for "Love Don't Love Me" by Eric Benet, a brief filmography section for director Hardwick and his four male leads, and theatrical trailers for The Brothers, The Broken Hearts Club, Wedding Planner, My Best Friend's Wedding, Trois, and…John Carpenter's Ghost of Mars?? Okay, boys and girls, let's play one of these things is not like the others! My best guess is that Columbia figured Ghost of Mars was such a stinker that it needed all the help it could get, but, sadly, I don't think it helped.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you get tricked into seeing The Brothers, just make sure she sits through something like, oh, Die Hard. If you are a man who likes relationship movies, well, aren't you a sensitive guy! You'll like The Brothers without reservation. I don't mean to sound harsh, because The Brothers doesn't deserve it, but this is a film that's not my cup of tea. Occasionally, I have been known to like a relationship movie (like You've Got Mail or perhaps The Cutting Edge), but usually something, whether the setting or the actors involved, draw me in despite the genre. The Brothers is pretty much just a relationship flick to me, though if you are a fan of one or more of the actors, I can see why this film could be a favorite of yours.
With more than four couples to cover in a film just a hair over 100 minutes, there is a lot going on, and some detail is going to get lost. None of the characters gets too much time for background and development, though Morris Chestnut's Jackson Smith is luckier than most. Furthermore, the characters themselves make it harder to sympathize with their plight. These are such successful professionals that whether or not they win their romantic quests hardly seems to matter a great deal. In his commentary, Gary Hardwick notes that he made these people affluent to demonstrate that having money doesn't solve your personal problems. Point taken, but I stand by my view.
An ensemble film about relationships, The Brothers strikes a balance between soap opera and reality, entertaining you even as it slips in serious thoughts from time to time. Though I wouldn't recommend it for a Manly Movie Night, I would endorse The Brothers ($25 list) for at least a rental under most circumstances.
A few flaws, but the actors and director show promise, so the Court can only hope that the future will prove me right. Likewise, Columbia does right by a relatively unknown film. Case dismissed!
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