In 'I Like It Like That,' family ties bind in violent world

October 21, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

The name of the film is "I Like It Like That." But when it's over, you may think, Gee, I went to the fights and a movie broke out.

For the subtext of "I Like It Like That" is chaos, unleashed into family life by the unceasing pressure of economics, as a young black-Puerto Rican family struggles desperately to stay together under the threat of lost money when the husband is sent to prison.

Fights, always fights. Every seven minutes or so, "I Like It Like That" explodes into emotional carnage, black bitterness and the shrapnel of wounding insults spewed everywhere. Everybody's got an attitude and an agenda and turf to defend, and under the tidal wave of economic uncertainty, loyalty and love are the first to buckle.

That's subtext. Text is: Here's a strong African-American woman of Puerto Rican heritage who finds the guts and gumption to imagine a life better than the one she's inherited; to enter a mainstream culture and, defying the pressures of both racism and sexism, battle her way toward a real life.

But the great strength of "I Like It Like That" is that it doesn't sugarcoat the terrible price such an effort requires. When Lisette (Lauren Velez) manages to con her way into a job with Mr. Price's record company and deploy her great knowledge and instinct for Latino pop culture, it comes at the expense of children who go untended and a home life that, already on the verge of collapse, gets even shakier.

When Price (a smarmy but amusing Griffin Dunne) comes on to Lisette, she's got to decide whether her career or her integrity is worth more, since the world seems to be conspiring against her by preventing her from enjoying both. Meanwhile, Chino (Jon Seda), her fiery husband, is battling his own demons: he's lost his job, another woman is claiming that he's the father of her baby, and his son is being seduced into the life of drug dealing.

"I Like It Like That" is being billed as the first major film directed by an African-American woman, which seems to suggest that nobody at Columbia has heard of Julie Dash's great "Daughters of the Dust," from far-off 1991. Nevertheless, the movie is a powerful vision into a world usually unpenetrated by the American cinema, and worth seeing.

'I Like It Like That'

Starring Lauren Velez and Jon Seda

Directed by Darnell Martin

Released by Columbia

Rated R

** 1/2

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