Granted, as a white woman over 25, I’m not the intended core audience for Four Brothers. Still, I refuse to believe I’m a completely dispensable slice of the projected demographic pie. After all, I’ve got an abiding affection for the wily chameleon Mark Wahlberg, who stars; a building excitement about charismatic André Benjamin from OutKast, who made such an electrifying acting turn in Be Cool and who costars; and a scholarly interest in the quick rise and stalled artistic development of John Singleton, who directs. So I think I have a right to ask: Why is Four Brothers so cheesy? Why does it look like junk? Why are the lines so oafish, the scenes so sloppily pasted together, and the characters so false? Why is the action overrun with ugly gun violence, automotive wreckage, and death; why is the conversation drenched in casual, jokey homophobia and racism? And why does such cut-rate stuff — a diminution of everything important Singleton achieved 14 years ago with his riveting debut, Boyz N the Hood — get by, shrugged off as just another diversion meant for a rowdy summertime crowd who doubtless think I’m a twit for raising such dowdy objections?
Why is Four Brothers considered good enough — by John Singleton’s own standards? (He also produced, but didn’t direct, the more capably made but equally inauthentic Hustle & Flow, another sentimentalized retreat from the hard honesty of Boyz.)
Hold that thought and consider the preposterous premise: The Mercer siblings themselves are an artificially constructed Detroit family, two white brothers and two black, brought together as unwanted foster kids by their feisty, saintly adoptive mother, Evelyn Mercer (Irish stage stalwart Fionnula Flanagan, assuming a stance of theatrical working-class rectitude often played by Lynn Redgrave), who raised her boys in a house of good manners that didn’t stop them from getting into trouble. Evelyn is as present and nurturing a parent as Tre Styles’ mama wasn’t in Boyz. And now Evelyn is dead, gunned down in an apparent grocery store holdup.
But when the grieving orphans — now men — reunite in their Detroit boyhood home for her funeral, they smell something fishy about the story given by cops Green (Terrence Howard from Hustle & Flow in a thanklessly contrived role) and Fowler (Josh Charles, in a role even worse) to explain the shooting. So they decide to investigate themselves, and dispense a little justice, Mercer brothers style. The trail of evidence leads to gang goons, drug scum, rotten cops, crooked politicians, whorish women, Neanderthal contract killers, a wack Detroit gangster in a pouffy fur jacket (fine British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor from Love Actually), and a lot of catchy Motown music thrown in to pump soundtrack sales.
It’s no accident that it has taken until now in this review to bother mentioning Wahlberg’s work as tough-guy big brother Bobby; or Tyrese Gibson (a photogenic fave of the director’s who also appeared in Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious) as Angel, a stud with the unslakable hots for girlfriend Sofi (Sofia Vergara), dubbed ”La Vida Loca” by the rest of the family for her flights of Hispanic hotheadedness; or an undervalued Benjamin as Jeremiah, a business-minded husband and father; or Troy pretty boy Garrett Hedlund as Jack, a fawn-like rock musician the other sibs enjoy tormenting with tedious slurs questioning his sexuality. Built from a studio kit of ”types,” face-recognition factors, and market-penetration charts, this fraternal quartet has all the believability of the Village People. And Wahlberg, with hair slicked back like a car salesman’s, and face lined with ennui, looks particularly recycled, more of a Pops trying to hang on to his glory days than a Number One Son.
Because the script, riddled with verbal ugliness by David Elliot and Paul Lovett, sends the movie to a series of arbitrary nowheres, the final showdown for the Mercer boys and their enemies is just as meaningless and sense-deadening. Get past the scene in a fake-swank restaurant where an insubordinate gang lieutenant and a random ho are forced to eat off the floor, rumps in the air, and you end up at a frozen-over fishing hole where the film pauses to peddle a crackpot message of labor-union solidarity. There is no Hood in Four Brothers, and no Boyz, either — just Hollywood Men at Work, risking nothing for an audience that isn’t supposed to mind.