Boyz N the Hood is something we’ve seen far too little of: a Hollywood movie in which young urban blacks aren’t involved in killing each other for a share of the crack trade. The ”hood” of the title is a lower-middle-class block of South Central Los Angeles, where the sly, easygoing Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.) hangs out with his childhood buddies — Ricky (Morris Chestnut), a star athlete bucking for a USC football scholarship, and the deadbeat Doughboy (Ice Cube), the only one of the three who has any sort of relationship with a local gang. Tre has been raised by his single dad, Furious (Larry Fishburne), to treat . people with respect. The film’s despairing message — well, actually, it has a lot of messages — is that the absence of strong, vital fathers like Furious is what has reduced the inner-city black community to chaos.
By the time Boyz N the Hood winds into its conventionally ”explosive” climax, violence will have touched all the characters’ lives. But the movie is most enjoyable — and perceptive — when it’s content to be a slice of urban life. Writer-director John Singleton, who’s only 23, gives you a feel for the neighborhood as an organic, close-knit community, and he shows some skill at throwaway repartee. The movie is lively and fun when the characters are trading barbs over a backyard cookout. Singleton also offers a penetrating insight: Through dialogue and atmosphere, he establishes how the cult of violence — of guns, and the neurotic masculine power they represent — has, in an era of hopelessness, become a face-saving religion for black urban youth, one that’s working to devour all nonbelievers. Boyz N the Hood doesn’t have enough of a story going for it. The movie sags and then gets preachy. But Singleton is definitely a filmmaker to watch. B-