Brown Sugar

Movie Information

Genre: Comedy Romance
Director: Rick Fumiyawa
Starring: Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan, Mos Def, Nicole Ari Parker, Queen Latifah
Rated: PG-13

There are so many good things about Brown Sugar that it’s a shame that plot isn’t among them.

The players are all attractive and good in their roles. Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan have exceptional screen chemistry. The screenplay manages to create characters who actually talk about something worth hearing. They have goals, dreams, backgrounds. They seem solid and real. While exploring the meaning of hip-hop music in their lives may not be everyone’s dish of tea, it takes only a minor adjustment of thought to understand Brown Sugar in other terms that are more personally applicable.

It all sounds like a pretty good movie, right? Well, it could have been had it had any other plot. The problem is obvious from the very onset. Here’s the setup: Dre (Diggs) and Sidney (Lathan) have been friends since childhood, when they discovered hip-hop music. He’s managed to turn his interest into a job as a record executive while she’s parlayed her interest into a job as a big-time music critic for the Los Angeles Times. Both of them would seem to have it all, but neither has ever had a successful romantic relationship. Where do you suppose this is going to lead? Right. And it’s going to take 108 minutes to get there.

Even with everything else going for it, I found myself saying, “Oh, for God’s sake, get together already!” long before the movie allowed them to do just that. Plot’s not everything, of course, but it helps to have one that couldn’t just as effectively have concluded at the 90-minute or 80-minute mark, or even at the 20-minute mark, which is exactly what we have here. Had Brown Sugar ended earlier, it would have made no difference, except maybe to have made the movie somewhat more enjoyable. Director Fumiyawa seems to have grown impatient with it all, too, since somewhere around the three-quarter mark he starts utilizing annoying jump cuts within takes to goose up the action.

Also, while the movie boasts good characters who frequently talk about interesting subjects, it tends to come up short in the comedy department. Most of Brown Sugar’s brighter comic moments are all packed into the trailer, leaving the movie itself bereft of much in the way of laughs. There is one very funny running gag featuring a stupefyingly inane interracial rap duo (Erik Weiner and Reggi Wyns) who record a cover of the old Paul McCartney-Michael Jackson hit “The Girl Is Mine,” reworked in hip-hop terms as “The Ho Is Mine.” Unfortunately, this occurs reels and reels before the movie is over, leaving us wandering in a sea of increasing predictability.

It’s rare that a movie can be as intelligent as this one is in every regard except its storyline; everything that’s good is ultimately scuttled by a plot that’s just too boring and obvious. And that’s too bad, because the film was otherwise onto something.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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