If romantic comedies were pop songs, then Love Jones would be one of Babyface's sexed-up slow grooves, and Booty Call would be an exuberantly nasty horndog rap by the Notorious B.I.G. These movies don't just happen to star African Americans; they pointedly take off from black attitudes toward sex a frank, easygoing humor about the politics of bedding down that would have absolutely no place in, say, a Sandra Bullock movie. It's simply accepted here that men are dogs and that the women who get involved with them should be ready to do some taming.
In Love Jones, the chief dog is Darius (Larenz Tate), a young Chicago stud who peppers his come-ons with references to Charlie Parker and Mozart and melts the indifference of the cool, cerebral Nina (Nia Long) by performing a spoken-word tribute to her. Nina, an aspiring photographer, knows that Darius, the renaissance lothario, is far too full of himself to be trusted. But he's so adorable she lets herself get seduced anyway. With its quick-witted portrait of contemporary black bohemia, Love Jones, like Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It, offers the slight shock of something that shouldn't, by now, be nearly so novel: the sight of middle-class African Americans hanging out in a movie just the way white people do playing pool, flirting, joshing each other with home truths. The best reason to see the movie is the hot-blooded chemistry between Tate and Long. These two convince you they're seriously in love, a connection that actually comes close to undermining the film's second half, when they're forced to drift apart mostly as a result of writer-director Theodore Witcher's eagerness to stage a black update of boy-meets-girl cliches. Still, even when the plot sags, the erotic moodiness of Love Jones remains fresh.
The very title of Booty Call it's slang for a
no-strings-attached midnight sex date lets you know that the
film is going to be as proudly disreputable as one of Martin
Lawrence's monologues. It is also, in its way, every bit as
synthetic. Jamie Foxx, as the braided, hormonally overcharged
Bunz, and Tommy Davidson, as the more chivalrous (read: wimpy)
Rushon, go on a double date that takes them from a Chinese
restaurant to a dance club to the adjacent apartments of their
prospective honeys (Vivica A. Fox and Tamala Jones). For a
while, the entire film seems to be in heat. There are moments of
lewd hilarity, like a game of footsie that turns genderifically
confused. But Booty Call loses its dirty-minded,
how-low-will-they-go-to-get-laid edge when the boys venture out
into the New York night to buy condoms. The film becomes a
shrill After Hours of safe sex, a comedy of outrage in which
outrage ultimately congeals into hysteria.
Love Jones: B-
Booty Call: C+