Four Brothers Review
By Joe Lozito
Brothers in Harm
" has a great premise (the four adopted sons of a woman gunned down in a grocery store come home for revenge), a talented cast (Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, Terrence Howard) and a director with a nose for gritty realism at the helm (John Singleton). So how did it go so wrong? For starters, the script by David Elliot and Paul Lovett is full of sloppy forgettable dialogue ("They set mom up…they set her UP!") and characters that are smart only until the plot machinations require them to be unforgivably stupid (turning your back on the cop you just accused of being crooked? Bad idea).
The fraternal bonding between the four brothers is so real and fun (particularly a scene in the family bathroom) that everything around it pales in comparison. Mr. Wahlberg, saddled with the starring but least-developed role, acts mostly through his trademark swagger, but the actor is so charismatic even when dousing a witness with gasoline that you're willing to forgive him. Tyrese Gibson, re-teaming with Mr. Singleton after the unfairly forgotten "Baby Boy" and the can't-forget-it-quick-enough "2 Fast 2 Furious", is more than just a pretty face, but here he isn't given much to do. Andre Benjamin of the group "Outkast" is given the meaty role of Jeremiah, the brother who may be mixed up in shady business affairs. Mr. Benjamin has an easy charm on screen, but he has that musician-turned-actor apprehension about him which undermines certain key scenes.
Their mom is played mostly in flashback by Fionnula Flanagan, who always has a benevolent way about her. Her Evelyn Mercer is the saint of this Detroit suburb, taking in lost causes and setting them straight. She doesn't mind tattoos, but keep your elbows off the table. The film makes it easy to understand why the boys are willing to shoot up half of Detroit to avenge her death.
The brothers' detective work runs them afoul of the police on multiple occasions. Understandable since the boys are involved in a slippery car chase during a Detroit blizzard which shows that Mr. Singleton probably got more out of directing "2 Fast 2 Furious" than any of its audience did from watching it. There is also a brutal shoot-out at mom's house which isn't a drive-by as much as a park'n'shoot. It's right around that point that the film begins to spiral out of control. Terrence Howard continues a string of terrific performances ("Crash", "Hustle & Flow") here doing as much as he can with the underwritten role of a cop.
In a John Singleton movie you might expect much to be made of the multi-racial family dynamic, but aside from a few winking nods, not much is mentioned. That is both a strength and weakness of the film; while I appreciated the acceptance with which the topic was dealt, the film becomes just another violent revenge thriller with an interracial Scooby gang. And that's about as complex as the plot is. The characters and motivations are so cliché and predictable that it's a wonder no one complains about "these meddling kids". The villain of the film, in particular, is completely ludicrous, though through no fault of Chiwetel Ejiofor who is a typically reliable actor. The script makes his Victor Sweet so cartoonishly over-the-top, complete with an homage to the baseball bat scene from "The Untouchables", that it's impossible to feel anything but suppressed laughter. Well, laughter and disappointment.