Shemar Moore, Susan Dalian

Writer-director Gary Hardwick's "The Brothers" is a tepid relationship drama by any measure. This take on how four pals approach dating and marriage in the 2000s is stuffed with the most obvious points imaginable and thoroughly lacking in the kind of daring attitudes characterized by Terry McMillan's benchmark novel-turned-movie.

Those anticipating the male response to “Waiting to Exhale” will have to remain patient, since it isn’t remotely delivered by writer-director Gary Hardwick’s “The Brothers.” A tepid relationship drama by any measure, this take on how four pals approach dating and marriage in the 2000s is stuffed with the most obvious points imaginable and thoroughly lacking in the kind of daring attitudes characterized by Terry McMillan’s benchmark novel-turned-movie. Hardly the stuff of Screen Gems’ intended profile as a handler of special films, pic’s most appropriate berth is the small screen, where it will find a home after a brief theatrical affair, although it’s difficult to fathom who will cozy up to it in any medium.

The most intriguing evaluation of “The Brothers” would be a retrospective study of what kind of audience it actually attracted. In no way geared to the “urban market” because of its overtly upper middle class and suburban setting, talky and static pic would also seem to be a turnoff for young males yearning for action and comedy, even as the story’s explicitly guy p.o.v. is hardly the thing to catch the eyes and ears of women.

Instead, Hardwick’s undeniably personal look at how some upwardly mobile male black professionals go about their love lives speaks to a real but still-emerging audience that may not bother showing up at all.

Pals Jackson (Morris Chestnut), Terry (Shemar Moore), Derrick (D.L. Hughley) and Brian (Bill Bellamy) may have their weekly hoops game in common, but they’re at odds when it comes to women. Jackson, a pediatrician, is having nightmares about women in wedding dresses killing him. Terry is newly engaged to possessive BeBe (Susan Dalian). Derrick is married to Sheila (Tamala Jones), but it’s rocky. Lawyer Brian has to confront his ex-date, a stern judge (Angelle Brooks), in court.

Considerable talk about relationships after games of two-on-two — as if guys ever really do that — are followed by barely amusing incidents involving the four guys and their gals.

The underwritten comic sections are particularly notable in the cases of Hughley and Bellamy, whose individual skills with wit were presumably why they were cast in the first place. Though the marital split between Derrick and Sheila would seem to brim with dramatic promise, it’s completely upstaged by a corny set of plot complications involving Jackson, who must deal with the problem that Denise (Gabrielle Union) once had an affair with his father Fred (Clifton Powell). In turn, Jackson’s mom Louise (Jenifer Lewis, dominant in a supporting role), long divorced from Fred, begins to warm up to him again.

All of this, though, takes away from the focus on the men. A classic case of plot drowning character storytelling, “The Brothers” strains awfully hard to wiggle its way to a happy resolution that, unsurprisingly, has absolutely no conviction to it.

Chestnut, Moore, Hughley and Bellamy convey the attitudes and style of affluent young black men, but the script provides them with only the most skeletal character types to work off. Jones and Union find emotional shadings in their scenes that are entirely their own work as actors.

Pic’s complete lack of cinematic verve, along with bland tech work, do much to drain the juice out of what should have been a fierce, fun battle of the sexes.

The Brothers

Production

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Screen Gems presentation. Produced by Darin Scott, Paddy Cullen. Executive producer, Doug McHenry. Directed, written by Gary Hardwick.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Alexander Gruszynski; editor, Earl Watson; music supervisor, Melodee Sutton; production designer, Amy Ancona; art director, Austin Gorg; set decorator, Melissa Levander; costume designer, Debrae Little; sound (Dolby Digital), Willie Burton; sound designer, Jason George; assistant director, Donald L. Sparks; casting, Reuben Cannon. Reviewed at Sony Studios, Culver City, March 6, 2001. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 101 MIN.

With

Jackson Smith - Morris Chestnut Derrick West - D.L. Hughley Brian Palmer - Bill Bellamy Terry White - Shemar Moore Denise Johnson - Gabrielle Union Cherie Smith - Tatyana Ali Louise Smith - Jenifer Lewis Sheila West - Tamala Jones Fred Smith - Clifton Powell BeBe Fales - Susan Dalian Mary West - Marla Gibbs Jesse Caldwell - Julie Benz Judge Carla Williams - Angelle Brooks

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