A hackneyed Cain and Abel story about two brothers growing up in inner-city Houston with a Romeo and Juliet twist, JASON'S LYRIC is meant to be a life-affirming look at the way love can change our lives. But its BOYZ N THE HOOD cliches and dreadfully stereotyped vision of the perfect woman
undermine the story's sense of urgency, making it all too easy to dismiss as Hollywood twaddle hiding behind a mask of ghetto reality.
JASON'S LYRIC opens as Jason Alexander (Allen Payne), riding down a country lane in a bus, recalls his childhood. When he and his brother Joshua were small, their father, Maddog (Forest Whitaker), was a loving and responsible man. But he went to Vietnam and returned angry and wounded. He beats
their mother, Gloria (Suzzanne Douglas), who throws him out. Finally, one terrible night, he kicks down their door and threatens Gloria. One of the brothers--we don't know which one--shoots and kills him.
Years later, Jason and Joshua (Bokeem Woodbine) have grown into two very different young men. Responsible, steady Jason works in a local TV repair shop and looks after Gloria, who manages a fast-food restaurant. Joshua is angry and frustrated, just out of jail for dealing drugs. His mother
demands that he go straight if he wants to live at home, but the lure of the streets is too strong. An accidental meeting with pretty, ambitious Lyric Greer (Jada Pinkett) changes Jason's life: he falls in love for the first time, and begins to think about leaving home. Meanwhile, Joshua's prison
buddy Ron (Lahmard Tate) has hooked him up with Lyric's gangster brother Alonzo (Treach of the rap band Naughty By Nature), who's planning a big bank robbery. Completing the web of connections between the main characters, Alonzo's fly girl squeeze Marti (Lisa Carson) is Lyric's co-worker at a
neighborhood restaurant and her advisor in matters of the heart.
Lyric wants to escape from the neighborhood and its pervasive violence; Joshua is jealous of Jason and comes to hate Lyric, because she's going to take his brother away from him. This volatile mix comes to its inevitable conclusion: Joshua shoots Lyric, then commits suicide. But all isn't lost:
when we return to the framing scene on the bus, we see that Lyric has survived, and she and Jason are on their way to start a new life.
Despite its strength-of-the-human-spirit pretensions, JASON'S LYRIC is at its best in the predictable but intense scenes of ghetto violence and despair. First time director Doug McHenry, working from a screenplay by Bobby Smith, Jr., seems to have a firm grasp of scenes involving bloodshed and
brutality, but this love business seems to stump him and he resorts to images so cliched that they're painfully risible.
Bokeem Woodbine's Joshua is terrifyingly convincing, a seething mass of anger, frustration, and macho posturing, just waiting to lash out at anybody who crosses him. Allen Payne has the far harder task: he must give Jason some depth and grit, tempering his goody-goody role with enough
deep-seated unhappiness that it doesn't come as a total surprise when we learn that it was he, not Joshua, who killed their father. Neither of them, however, has as tough a row to hoe as Jada Pinkett: the winsome Lyric is an impossible vision of the eternal feminine who recites poetry, stops to
smell the roses, dreams of sunsets and train whistles, and has a wardrobe composed entirely of variations on the themes of pastels, gauze, lace, and pretty little flowers. Add a pair of mayfly wings and she'd be Tinkerbell. When she and Jason go boating in the woods, it's a riot of floppy hats and
Hallmark soft-focus photography; when they make tender, passionate love on the grass, not a single stale convention of the tasteful love scene is left unexplored.
JASON'S LYRIC stirred up controversy with the MPAA Classification and Ratings Administration, receiving an NC-17 rating because of the woodland sex scene and the suggestive advertising art, which reportedly showed too much thigh for someone's liking. McHenry declared that it was all racial--that
black nudity bothered the MPAA more than equivalent scenes highlighting white flesh--and MPAA head Jack Valenti struck back with a furious non sequitur: while McHenry was "peeing in his diapers, I was by the side of Lyndon Johnson, enacting the greatest revolution in civil rights and human justice
this country has ever seen. There's nothing racial about it." (Valenti, an LBJ crony from Houston, served as special advisor to the President from 1963 to 1966.) This tempest in a teapot was as quickly forgotten as the film. (Violence, nudity, sexual situations, substance abuse, profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1994
- Rating: R
- Review: A hackneyed Cain and Abel story about two brothers growing up in inner-city Houston with a Romeo and Juliet twist, JASON'S LYRIC is meant to be a life-affirming look at the way love can change our lives. But its BOYZ N THE HOOD cliches and dreadfully stere… (more)