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Boyz N the Hood

John Singleton's debut feature is a low-key morality drama about the strained bonds of family and friendship in the midst of social disorder. The film begins in South Central Los Angeles, circa 1984, where ten-year-old Tre Styles (Desi Arnez Hines II) is confronted with the violence of everyday life in the streets of his ghettoized, African-American neighborhood. After being entrusted by his divorced mother Reva (Angela Bassett) to her ex-husband Furious (Larry Fishburne), Tre receives moral guidance from his loving but disciplinarian father. Growing up he befriends the brothers who live across the street, bad-assed Doughboy and shy Ricky, who dreams of playing professional football. After Doughboy spends seven years in prison for juvenile crimes, the three are reunited during their last year of high school. Tre (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and Ricky (Morris Chestnut) are the inseparable good kids, while Doughboy (Ice Cube) leads the crew of bitter and combative boys in the 'hood. USC recruiters offer Ricky an athletic scholarship, while Tre and his girlfriend Brandi (Nia Long) discuss the possibility of getting married--after completing their college educations. But chaotic forces overwhelm even these best and brightest in their efforts to escape the terrors of their neighborhood. "Increase the peace." The words which appear at the conclusion of BOYZ N THE HOOD ring out as a simple, intelligent, and urgent plea, befitting Singleton's powerful, unpretentious dramatization of life in a modern L.A. ghetto. Like fellow black filmmaker Spike Lee, Singleton fills his work with references to the particulars of black life: from little Tre's precocious lecture on Afrocentric history, to Furious's lessons about racial genocide and culturally biased IQ tests, to Brandi and Tre's destinations at historically black colleges Spelman and Morehouse. The ensemble cast makes good on Singleton's true-to-life script, with particularly strong work performances by rap star-turned-actor Ice Cube as Doughboy and the understated Larry Fishburne as Furious Styles. Positive figures--Furious, Tre, Brandi--are rendered perhaps too virtuous, and Singleton becomes a bit preachy in the closing scenes, but an overt "message" movie may be the only appropriate response to the ongoing social crisis addressed by BOYZ N THE HOOD.