Baby Boy opens with the title character waiting for one of his girlfriends, Yvette (Taraji P Henson), outside a 'health' clinic, where she's just had an abortion to avoid having a second child. And that's as cheery as it gets.
Treating Yvette as if she's just gone down with a mild dose of flu, Jody borrows her car and zips off to see his other missus (Tamara LaSeon Bass), where he dotes on their young baby. It's a powerful juxtaposition from writer/ director John Singleton, but one of few compelling moments in this overlong, repetitious and often dull melodrama.
Baby Boy's been touted as a companion piece to Singleton's Oscar-nominated debut Boyz N The Hood, but while it certainly has the preachiness of its predecessor, there's little of the freshness. Singleton has a point, you see. Jody (Tyrese Gibson) needs to GROW UP. He needs to be RESPONSIBLE. He needs to stop being a BABY BOY. Geddit? Well, don't worry if you don't spot it to begin with, because it's repeated with such monotonous regularity that a deaf-blind mute could pick it up by the halfway mark.
Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with a message movie, but for an audience to care what a writer/director has to say, they need to care about the characters on screen. Perhaps an actor with tremendous charisma (like the late Tupac Shakur, who was originally cast in the lead) could have pulled off playing the dislikeable Jody, but Gibson doesn't have the necessary allure.
He's by no means awful, and there are good performances throughout the cast - particularly Ving Rhames' reformed gangster - but the characters are one-dimensional and the film's central act is a relentless bout of ear-blasting rows over Jody's shagging about. By the time Snoop Dogg turns up for the inevitable, gun-related finale, it's hard to care who lives or dies. You just want to get out.
John Singleton's return to South Central plays like a '60s kitchen sink drama, with added dope and guns. The impressive Ving Rhames can't rescue a message movie that forgets rule number one: to make people listen, you have to entertain.