You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Brown Sugar

Not many movies are built on the foundation of the characters' (and the filmmakers') love of something, so the central role played by hip-hop music in the lives of everyone in "Brown Sugar" will stand the picture in good stead with its intended audience.

Dre - Taye Diggs Sidney - Sanaa Lathan Chris - Mos Def Reese - Nicole Ari Parker Kelby - Boris Kodjoe Francine - Queen Latifah Ren - Erik Weiner Ten - Reggi Wyns Simon - Wendell Pierce

Not many movies are built on the foundation of the characters’ (and the filmmakers’) love of something, so the central role played by hip-hop music in the lives of everyone in “Brown Sugar” will stand the picture in good stead with its intended audience. A love story in which the inevitability of the eventual union of leading man and woman is obvious to all except them, this first foray into film production for exhibition entrepreneur (and former hoops star) Earvin “Magic” Johnson is equal parts soundtrack and lightweight romantic comedy-drama. Too mild to be a likely candidate for crossover to a wide public, Fox Searchlight release is nonetheless sufficiently smooth, sexy and tuneful to score nicely with youngish viewers attracted by the scenic cast and date-night potential.

“You’re turning into a Terry McMillan character,” Queen Latifah’s character sasses early on to Sanaa Lathan’s very proper black urban professional; the comment could easily apply to just about everyone on view here, so refined and rarefied is everyone’s taste in clothes and home furnishings, and so apparently unlimited are their budgets.

As if bumping the upwardly mobile young characters in his 1999 debut feature “The Wood” several notches higher on the socioeconomic ladder, director and co-writer (with Michael Elliot) Rick Famuyiwa situates the story in a near-fantasy world of high-bourgeois consumption. When Lathan’s street-raised but now successful New Yorker waxes nostalgic about the music of her youth and complains, “I can’t remember the last time I had that feeling,” it’s no wonder why.

A music journalist newly returned from L.A. to her hometown of Gotham, Sidney (Lathan) has a sure-fire technique for drawing out her interview subjects: Her first question is always, “When did you fall in love with hip-hop?” For her and her childhood friend Dre, it was in the summer of 1984, and that link has fueled a tight friendship that’s lasted ever since without ever sliding over into romance.

At a Def Jam party in the Bronx, Dre (Taye Diggs), now a producer for Millennium Records, surprises Sidney by publicly proposing to his extra-hot attorney g.f. Reese (Nicole Ari Parker). To anyone who’s interested, Sidney says she doesn’t date because she can’t afford to waste her time with men she knows won’t be “on the same page” with her, but it’s clear that, her protests notwithstanding, she still carries a torch for Dre.

What follows is a series of modest farcical obstacles that Dre and Sidney must stumble over before they finally see the light. What would be heavy events in real life — Dre’s marriage and departure from his lucrative job, Reese’s infidelity, Sidney’s eventual engagement to handsome pro basketball player Kelby (Boris Kodjoe), Dre and Sidney’s problematic flings with intimacy — are tossed off almost as casually as a suddenly out-of-style outfit, and invariably to the accompaniment of an appropriate song.

A crumb of psychology would have helped. While Lathan invests Sidney with a credible seriousness, the crucial question of why she’s resisted testing the amorous waters with the obviously willing Dre all these years remains mysterious, as does her entire romantic history until she meets the irresistible Kelby.

Equally cavalier is the film’s attitude toward money, which allows a mere journo to be able to unblinkingly write a hefty check to help her buddy launch his new record label; in a world marked by a number of unlikely propositions, this one takes the cake.

But as eye and ear candy, pic has its modest pleasures, beginning with the attractive Diggs and Lathan, both of whom appeared in “The Wood” for Famuyiwa. Diggs exposes the insecurities beneath Dre’s slick looks with nervous grinning and gesturing, while Lathan invests Sidney with a healthy degree of self-confidence even though the character is plagued by uncertainties.

Key supporting players are vibrantly watchable even if their roles aren’t as developed in the writing as they might have been. Mos Def is in for mostly comic relief as a talented rapper with commercial/career issues who sheepishly comes on to Sidney’s best friend (an effortless Queen Latifah), a role that could have used more crackling lines. Parker and Kodjoe sizzle as partners who are, in the end, just too much for their respective mates, while Erik Weiner and Reggi Wyns score a few laughs as a lame “Dalmatian” rap duo named Ren and Ten.

Tech contributions are smooth as silk, and bulging soundtrack runs to 45 tunes.

Popular on Variety

Brown Sugar

Production: A Fox Searchlight release of a Heller Highwater/Magic Johnson Entertainment production. Produced by Peter Heller. Executive producer, Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Co-producer, Trish Hofmann. Directed by Rick Famuyiwa. Screenplay, Michael Elliot, Famuyiwa, story by Elliot.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Enrique Chediak; editor, Dirk Westervelt; music, Robert Hurst; music supervisors, Barry Cole, Christopher Covert; production designer, Kalina Ivanov; art director, David Stein; set decorator, Roberta J. Holinko; costume designer, Darryle Johnson; sound (Dolby), William Sarokin; supervising sound editor, Gregory Hedgepath; assistant director, Jono Oliver; casting, Alexa L. Fogel. Reviewed at 20th Century Fox studios, L.A., Sept. 27, 2002. (In Chicago Film Festival --opening night.) MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 109 MIN.

With: Dre - Taye Diggs Sidney - Sanaa Lathan Chris - Mos Def Reese - Nicole Ari Parker Kelby - Boris Kodjoe Francine - Queen Latifah Ren - Erik Weiner Ten - Reggi Wyns Simon - Wendell Pierce

More Film

  • Costa Gavras

    Costa-Gavras and Cast on Nationality, Identity, and Cinema

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Though he’s been based in Paris since 1955 and came up through the French film industry, director Costa-Gavras has never forgotten his roots. “Those who are born Greek,” said the Peloponnese-born filmmaker at a Saturday press conference,  “stay Greek all their lives.” The once-and-always Greek was not just in San Sebastian to [...]

  • Lorene Scafaria, Jennifer Lopez. Lorene Scafaria,

    'Hustlers' Director Lorene Scafaria: 'We Wanted to Treat It Like a Sports Movie'

    The star-studded cast of “Hustlers” didn’t just become strippers in the empowering female-helmed blockbuster — they also became athletes. When speaking to “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, “Hustlers” director Lorene Scafaria explained the extreme athleticism required of the movie’s leading actresses, who all had [...]

  • Jonathan Van NessLos Angeles Beautycon, Portrait

    Jonathan Van Ness Reveals HIV Diagnosis, Former Drug Addiction

    “Queer Eye’s” Jonathan Van Ness is getting vulnerable in his new memoir “Over the Top.” In a preview of his book with the New York Times, Van Ness opened up about his early struggles with sex and drug addiction as well as his experience with sexual assault, revealing that he was abused by an older [...]

  • 4127_D022_00003_RC(l-r.) Elizabeth McGovern stars as Lady

    Box Office: 'Downton Abbey' Dominating 'Ad Astra,' 'Rambo' With $31 Million Opening

    “Downton Abbey” is heading for a positively brilliant opening weekend after scoring $13.8 million in domestic ticket sales on Friday. If estimates hold, the feature film version of the popular British television show should take home approximately $31 million come Sunday, marking the biggest opening ever for distributor Focus Features and beating previous record holder [...]

  • Gully Boy to represent India in

    'Gully Boy' to Represent India In Oscars Race

    The Film Federation of India has chosen Zoya Akhtar’s “Gully Boy” as its entry in the Academy Awards’ international feature film category. The picture, a coming of age tale about an aspiring rapper in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum premiered at the Berlin film festival in February before opening to a wave of acclaim at home in [...]

  • Lucy-Lost

    Cartoon Forum: 30th Anniversary, Little Giants and New Generations

    TOULOUSE, France –  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Cartoon Forum wrapped Sept. 19 having showcased the ever-growing strength of European animation. 85 projects were pitched from 24 countries at the co-production forum platform that played host to north of 1,000 investors, distributors and producers – a record number. Falling on French-speaking Belgium – Wallonie-Bruxelles – whose [...]

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content