The Boyz may be men, and the Hood might have changed, but Four Brothers finds director John Singleton treading depressingly similar ground to his ground-breaking 1991 debut. Widening his casting net to include white actors and leavening the gangbanger mayhem with blackly comic elements might be developments of sorts. But his latest thriller says nothing Boyz N The Hood didn’t already tell us about the dangers of nihilistic, retributive violence.
That said, Singleton does seem to have altered his position. Where an eye for an eye left everyone blind in Boyz, here it’s a sadistic means to a positive end – namely, reinforcing the filial ties that transcend the adoptive brothers’ racial differences. The family that slays together, stays together – and so it proves as they embark on a brutal quest which sees them drop thugs out of windows, threaten gas-soaked hoodlums with lit cigarettes and indulge in Heat-style shoot-outs on suburban streets.
What would Mother Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan) say? Not much, despite coming back from the grave for a series of ghostly appearances whose curdling sentimentality acts in sharp relief to the carnage. And the cops, represented by Terrence Howard and Josh Lucas, don’t seem too bothered either, apparently content to have Wahlberg & co cut a bloody swathe through Detroit.
For all their bling and swagger, the latter are a sorry lot – although Chiwetel Ejiofor does at least look like he’s having fun as the kingpin whose chips our heroes merrily piss on. Revenge is meant to be sweet but here it’s just sour, thanks to the fact that we never warm to the siblings in the way Singleton thinks we should. They don’t even seem to like each other, exchanging nasty taunts and foul-mouthed jibes like low-rent reservoir dogs. A slick car chase and the shoot-outs apart, this is one family reunion you’ll wish you hadn’t been invited to.
The action kicks, the soundtrack rocks and the casting is to be applauded. But this is a backwards step for a once-promising director.