`The Wood' splinters

July 16, 1999|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

If it were possible to root for a movie, "The Wood" would deserve it, for what it aspires to be: a sweet, funny, coming-of-age film with likable African-American characters.

For significant portions of the film, "The Wood" hits its target, but it ultimately misses enough to leave its audience slightly unsatisfied.

To his credit, director Rick Famuyiwa, in his feature debut, has crafted a film that is largely grounded in reality, as opposed to other films of its genre -- say, for instance, "How to Be a Player" or the infamous "Booty Call."

And "The Wood," named for the Inglewood neighborhood of Los Angeles, has a heart, with characters who seek to do the right thing, even if they have to be reminded what the right thing is.

The film centers on Roland (Taye Diggs), a prospective bridegroom, and his childhood friends, Slim (Richard T. Jones) and Mike (Omar Epps). Roland isn't sure he's ready for a lifetime commitment, and a good chunk of the film is spent on Roland's wedding day, as Mike and Slim attempt to get their pal out of the clutches of an old girlfriend (Tamala Jones) and into the waiting arms of Lisa, his intended (Lisaraye).

It is here where "The Wood," sadly, goes adrift. Save for Epps, quietly effective as narrator and the film's center, the performances are cartoonish and stilted. Famuyiwa, who co-wrote the rather cliched script, allegedly from his own life, shows his inexperience with a number of poorly executed scenes, including one in which the boom microphone is visible.

Better are flashbacks into the trio's 1980s adolescence, with the ghastly synth-dance music and equally dreadful Jheri Kurl hairdos. Sean Nelson, as Mike at 14, is particularly pleasing, as a fish out of water plunked into L.A. from his hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C.

"The Wood," like just about every other movie this summer with a teen theme, has no problem being a little ribald, with now-requisite penis references and some projectile vomiting thrown in for good measure. All in all, the film is a decent little Bonsai tree that could have been a mighty oak, under different circumstances.

`The Wood'

Starring Omar Epps, Taye Diggs, Richard T. Jones, Sean Nelson, Malinda Williams

Directed by Rick Famuyiwa

Released by Paramount Pictures and MTV Films

Rated R (for language, sexual themes)

Running time: 106 minutes

Sun score: **

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