DATE: Wednesday, March 19, 1997             TAG: 9703190040


TYPE: Movie Review 


                                            LENGTH:   69 lines


THE SO-CALLED African-American film has had a problem in escaping from the 'hood.

With the notable exception of the sensitive and intelligent ``Boyz 'N The Hood,'' which made John Singleton the youngest director ever nominated for an Oscar, these treatises have provided only stereotypes - pimps, drug overdoses, random violence and four-letter words (the recent ``Gridlock'd'' used the ``f'' word 116 times - perhaps a record).

The core, audience has finally showed signs that it is tired of seeing the same drug-'hood movie over and over. When Spike Lee tried to do a film about middle-class black citizens or a socially interesting bus trip to the March on Washington, he got good reviews, but flops at the box office.

``love jones,'' with its lower case title and its appealing stars, will hopefully do better. It is an often-charming, if just-as-often fantasy-ridden, love affair between a black couple who inhabit a poetry bar and talk about tenderness as much as sex. Will it be dismissed as mere ``mush''? Without the support of black audiences, who could make it a profit-maker, it will sink. ``Jason's Lyric,'' an earlier attempt at such a romantic movie made no waves, other than to make a star out of Jada Pinkett.

``love jones'' concerns a would-be photographer (Nia Long) and a would-be writer (Larenz Tate) who meet at a ``poetry bar'' called Sanctuary in Chicago. The plot is little more than the courtship ritual - he pursues her, she resists, they fall in love, they break up and they make tentative moves toward reunion.

The title is the moniker for a kind of obsessive romantic dilemma.

They move among near-glamorous surroundings (hastily explained by the fact that she's house-sitting at a palatial pad). But if this is fantasy, it is surely no more a fantasy than white audiences have had for decades. No one really asked how Doris Day could afford all those designer clothes when she played virginal secretaries. Black audiences, as well as all audiences, deserve movie fantasies once in a while.

The two leads have chemistry - the kind of appeal that can stir hormones in dating couples of a wide audience. Tate is a boyish hunk who has spent time in the gym. Long is a pert type who is successful in resisting him without being overly unpleasant or strident. Their friends are standard ``types'' - the wisecracking girlfriend who cheers her on; the braggart guy who claims sexual conquests that are unlikely; the guy who laments the fact that he ``gave in'' and got married. They move in a world of artists and bohemians which give it all the look a 1960s ``beat generation'' crowd - searching for identity, existentialism and all that.

The soundtrack is a bonus - including a bit from Charlie Parker, as well as Dionne Farris, Me'Shell Ndegeocello and Marcus Miller, Maxwell and Lauryn Hill of the Fugees.

We've seen this plot often before but it is something of an indictment of the movie industry that we haven't seen it played, at least not often, by black actors. ILLUSTRATION: [Photo]


Nia Long and Larenz Tate meet and fall for each other in ``love



``love jones''

Cast: Larenz Tate, Nia Long, Isaiah Washington, Lisa Nicole


Director and Writer: Theodore Witcher

MPAA rating: R (some language, partial nudity)

Mal's rating: 3 Stars

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