While STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN scrupulously avoids the glamorous violence that so often passes for black life in the movies, novice director Matty Rich hasn't replaced it with anything substantial.
Dennis Brown (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) was raised in a brutal housing project in Brooklyn. His parents, Ray (George T. Odom) and Frankie (Ann D. Sanders), have done their best to provide their children with a stable home and a sense of pride in themselves and their heritage as black Americans, but
social pressures conspire to defeat them. Embittered and convinced that he's been kept down by a white conspiracy to destroy black men, Ray drinks and beats his long-suffering wife. Frankie works as a maid, but loses her job because the bruises Ray leaves disturb her employers. She encourages her
daughter Carolyn (Barbara Sanon) to continue her education, but she's afraid she's losing her son to the streets. Her fears aren't unfounded: Dennis's buddies Larry (Matty Rich) and Kevin (Mark Malone) are already resigned to life on the fringes of society and figure they have to do whatever it
takes to get along. Dennis must go along or risk being ostracized.
The three boys concoct a plan to rob a drug dealer, reasoning that he's helping destroy the community anyway so it isn't morally wrong to take his money. It is, of course, terribly stupid. They get away with the cash, but everything goes terribly wrong almost immediately. The dealer and his
ruthless associates mount a relentless search for the thieves, and Dennis realizes there's no way he's going to get away unscathed. Meanwhile, Ray beats Frankie nearly to death, and the drug dealers kill him while the children are at the hospital with their mother.
The most impressive thing about STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN is that it was made at all. First-time filmmaker Matty Rich, a Brooklyn native barely out of his teens, raised the money from friends and relatives and managed--with no formal training--to put together a film that's both competently
constructed and serious in its attempt to portray life on the mean streets. Unfortunately, it's nothing more than competent, and suffers by comparison with several other films by young black male directors released in 1991, including Mario Van Peebles's NEW JACK CITY and John Singleton's BOYZ N
THE HOOD--both feature directorial debuts.
Rich appears in his own movie as Dennis's funny but aimless friend Larry (prompting yet another comparison, this time with Spike Lee) and is one of the best things about it: he's witty and pathetic at the same time, a character with more than one dimension. The rest of the cast is saddled with
roles that reduce them to cliches, if not out-and-out stereotypes. The women are almost painfully good, witness the studious Carolyn, saintly Frankie and Dennis's sensible girlfriend Shirley (Reana E. Drummond), who tries to persuade him to be patient and that things will work out. Ray is
frustrated and brutal, and the rest of the boys in the hood are blank-eyed predators. Even Dennis is a shallow excuse for a character; it's clear he's supposed to be a good kid because he isn't out doing crack and toting a machine gun, but he doesn't seem to have any ambitions or interests beyond
his desire to get out of the projects. Where, one wonders, does he want to go?
STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN is well-intentioned but dull, and looks particularly schematic next to Singleton's BOYZ N THE HOOD, which tells virtually the same story, set in the slums of Los Angeles rather than New York, with much more vitality. (Violence, substance abuse, profanity, sexualsituations, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: While STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN scrupulously avoids the glamorous violence that so often passes for black life in the movies, novice director Matty Rich hasn't replaced it with anything substantial. Dennis Brown (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) was raised in a br… (more)