The romantic comedy "Book of Love," which is subtitled "The Definitive Reason Why Men Are Dogs" and has been in distribution limbo since its completion four years ago, is a pleasant piece in the "Boomerang"/"Booty Call"/"Two Can Play That Game" mold, but with its own set of charms and laugh-out-loud gags.

The romantic comedy “Book of Love,” which is subtitled “The Definitive Reason Why Men Are Dogs” and has been in distribution limbo since its completion four years ago, is a pleasant piece in the “Boomerang”/”Booty Call”/”Two Can Play That Game” mold, but with its own set of charms and laugh-out-loud gags. Pic doesn’t bring much new to the table, even within that small subset of predominately African-American relationship pics, but director Jeffrey W. Byrd and his star/co-writer Eric K. George find clever ways of putting a fresh spin on familiar material. Bolstered by its strongly comic ensemble cast, film betters some similarly themed pics made subsequently. Although pic has been bought and sold and re-bought by distribs, it remains in a commercial holding pattern. Certainly, this “Book” merits dusting off.

Yarn unfolds, mock-documentary style, as a series of episodes from the lives of three L.A. bachelors as they fall in and out of relationships with a series of wily women. Angle is that the guys — Will (George), Jay (Anthony “Treach” Criss) and Ben (Richard T. Jones) — are basically a bunch of average Joes who are no match for their conniving lady loves, played respectively by Salli Richardson, Mari Morrow and Robin Givens.

In what amounts to a parodic response to “Waiting to Exhale,” it’s the obedient, eager-to-please men who are consistently chewed up and spit out by these stealthy broads. It’s this stone-cold treatment, Byrd and George argue, that eventually leads men to become, well, “dogs” themselves.

“Book of Love” has the rhythms of a sketch-comedy movie, and, although it drags in places, most of the sketches are on the mark. The most uproarious sketches are also the most familiar, but the filmmakers add an impressive amount of freshness to oft-seen situations.

A great early montage sequence of Will’s increasingly disastrous blind dates makes the women seem like they’re auditioning. But the most winning aspect of “Book of Love” may be the casting of Givens, who proves herself to be the radiant comedienne her earlier work “Boomerang” and “A Rage in Harlem” suggested. She plays her man-eating charms so gracefully and seductively that she makes the ultimately emasculating outcome seem not such a bad thing.

Even though “Book of Love” makes no bones about tipping its battle-of-the-sexes scales in favor of men, it possesses a fundamentally balanced sense of the give-and-take in relationships, and Byrd and George allow their characters to have real emotions — they’re not just there to serve as comic patsies. When the film, in its third act, makes a John Hughes-esque segue to more serious material, it doesn’t seem abrupt or forced.

Making the three protagonists all entertainment-industry insiders, however, goes against the very point that “Book of Love” seems trying to make — that the relationship tumult depicted onscreen is universal.

Book of Love

Production

A BET Pictures and Strange Fruit Films presentation of a Byrd/George production in association with 5th Gear Entertainment. Produced by Carl Craig, Tracey Baker, Eric K. George, Nia Hill, Jeffrey W. Byrd. Executive producers, J & Deangela Steed, the Family Circle Club, Nedal Abdul, the Shellys. Directed by Jeffrey W. Byrd. Screenplay, Eric K. George, Byrd.

Crew

Camera (Fotokem color), Carl Bartells; editors, Jeff Cooper, Christopher Koeford; music, Stanley James Taylor; music supervisor, Rico Wade; production designer, Damien Byrne; art director, Anne Cartegnie; costume designer, Rita McGhee; sound, Jim Ridgely; associate producers, Rachel Watanabe, Luce Gordon; assistant directors, Joe Osborne, Patrick Blake, Lynn "Gina" Bertha; second unit director, Eric K. George; casting, Robi Reed Humes. Reviewed at Pan African Film Festival, L.A., Feb. 14, 2002. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Will Hart - Eric K. George Karen - Salli Richardson Jay Black - Anthony "Treach" Criss Lyah - Mari Morrow Ben Strong - Richard T. Jones Iyana - Robin Givens Derrick - Adam Clark Mark - Joe D. Jonz Renee/Date #8 - Angelle Brooks Mom - Denise Dowse
With: Loretta Devine, Robert Townsend, Bill Duke.
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