Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Baby Boy: Special Edition (2001)
Studio Line: Columbia TriStar

Baby Boy is the powerful drama directed by John Singleton (Shaft, Boyz N the Hood) starring music superstars Tyrese Gibson and Snoop Dogg (Bones, Training Day). With knockout performances from Ving Rhames (Mission Impossible II, Pulp Fiction, Con Air) and A.J. Johnson (House Party, School Daze), Baby Boy is a tough, honest and unflinching look at modern urban life.

Jody (Gibson) is a 20-year-old African American in South Central L.A. who is trying to live large but doesn't have a job. He's got two babies by two different women and still lives at home with his mother (Johnson). Growing up is tough on Jody, but a series of events involving his mother's new boyfriend Melvin (Rhames), his girlfriend Yvette and her ex-con ex-boyfriend Rodney (Snoop Dogg) force him to learn some hard lessons about living, loving and surviving as a man in the hood.

Director: John Singleton
Cast: Tyrese Gibson, Adrienne-Joi Johnson, Ving Rhames, Taraji P. Henson, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tamara LaSeon Bass, Omar Gooding
Box Office: Budget: $16 million. Opening Weekend: $8.606 million (1533 screens). Domestic Gross: $28.734 million.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, standard 1.33:1; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1 & Dolby Surround 2.0, French Dolby Surround 2.0; subtitles English, French, Spanish, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Portuguese; closed-captioned; single sided - double layered; 28 chapters; rated R; 129 min.; $27.96; street date 11/06/01.
Supplements: Audio Commentary With Director John Singleton; Cinemax Featurette; Deleted and Alternate Scenes; Music Videos; Outtakes and Bloopers Reel; Storyboard Comparisons; “The Kiki and Boo Show”; Theatrical Trailers; TV Spots; Filmographies; Production Notes.
Purchase: DVD | Score soundtrack - David Arnold

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/A-/B+

With 2001’s Baby Boy, director John Singleton overtly returned to the territory he explored in his first film, the 1991 hit Boyz N the Hood. In fact, the two related so closely that some felt Boy was a sequel to Boyz, though that wasn’t true. While both cover some similar ground, they stand as separate films, and no foreknowledge of Boyz is necessary to view Boy.

While Boy didn’t bring Singleton the level of success and acclaim he received for Boyz, it does provide an intriguing and fairly compelling experience. After a provocative quote that theorizes racism has made black men think of themselves as babies, Boy follows 20-year-old Jody (Tyrese Gibson). He lives at home with his mother Juanita (A.J. Johnson), has no job or apparent goals, and bangs many various women. This resulted in children via two different mothers. Jody maintains a fairly positive relationship with Yvette (Taraji P. Henson), the mother of his son Joe Joe (Kaylan Bolton), but clearly couldn’t care less about Peanut, the mother of his daughter Lil’ Nut (Singleton’s daughter Cleopatra). However, Jody does seem to genuinely love both kids.

A few events disrupt Jody’s nonchalant existence. For one, his single mother - who’s still pretty young herself, since she clearly had Jody as a teen - hooks up with an old school gangster type named Melvin (Ving Rhames). The presence of a prior boyfriend caused Jody’s older brother to leave the home, and he worries that this new stud will force him to hit the road as well.

In addition, matters heat up between Jody and Yvette, largely because of his womanizing ways. He does go after anything that moves, and Yvette gets fed up with him and his aimless ways. Eventually a further snag occurs when her ex-boyfriend Rodney (Snoop Dogg) gets out of jail and comes to stay with Yvette against her will.

Basically Baby Boy looks at Jody and his struggle to grow up and become a man. Will he eventually leave behind his childish ways and do right. Obviously Jody acts as a stand-in for a generation of directionless guys who just want to get high and get laid, and Singleton paints a fairly layered picture of the lead character. He seems alternately loathsome and loveable, and we’re never quite sure if he’s a good guy at heart or he’s just a bum. The movie leans toward the former interpretation, but it doesn’t hesitate to depict Jody as a complex personality.

Overall, Baby Boy offered a pretty unflinching look at the reality of his life. Jody’s clearly afraid to die and he figures that his chances of surviving aren’t great. Those factors motivate a lot of his behaviors and help explain his mindset. As Jody, Gibson provided a pretty solid performance. He could pour on the charm when appropriate, but he also allowed the character to seem fairly cold and crude at times.

If I had to find a flaw with Gibson, it’d stem from his handsomeness. Jody’s women forgave all sorts of terrible behavior, and this seemed to comment on the tendencies of black women. However, since Gibson’s literally male-model attractive, there’s no question he doesn’t represent the average Jody. A guy like that - black, white, whatever - will get away with a lot that less good-looking men couldn’t.

Nonetheless, this didn’t significantly harm the story. As with most of Singleton’s other films, Boy could be a bit muddled at times, but in a way, that suited the story. It was never meant to be a tremendously cohesive narrative. However, the jumbled set of events made sense for Jody’s messy life. Some parts of the movie veered toward soap opera status at times, but not too badly. At times the story seemed to be a little too neat or tidy, but for the most part I thought it offered a good presentation of the characters’ lives.

One misrepresentation associated with Baby Boy relates to the DVD’s cover. Along with Gibson, we see Snoop featured prominently. He’s also listed as one of the three stars with Gibson and Rhames. Unfortunately, Snoop offers little more than a long cameo in the movie; while he plays an important part in the narrative, he’s still a minor character, and his high billing leads viewers to think that he’s one of the stars.

While he wasn’t, maybe he should have been. Most of the actors were quite good. Gibson showed natural charm and ease in front of the camera, and Rhames was his usual solid self, as he made “original gangster” Melvin much more complex than he could have been. However, Snoop stole the show. He seemed shockingly hard and tough in the part, as he became a truly unpleasant and evil presence. I’d always been under the impression Snoop was a mellow guy, but he came across as genuinely harsh here, and his work really impressed me.

Baby Boy offered a fairly gritty and provocative look at the lives of young black men. It’s not a pretty picture, but it seemed rich and real. The movie made some missteps at times, and its often rough and nasty nature meant that it won’t be for everyone, but overall I thought it was a strong and compelling piece.

The DVD:

Baby Boy appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although not flawless, as a whole the picture looked very solid.

Sharpness consistently seemed distinct and accurate. At no time did I discern any signs of soft or fuzzy images, as the movie always remained crisp and detailed. I came across no examples of jagged edges or moiré effects, but I did see a smidgen of edge enhancement at times. As far as print flaws went, a little grain crept into the presentation on occasion, but otherwise the movie looked clean and fresh.

Boy featured a nicely warm and naturalistic palette, and the DVD reproduced these tones well. Colors always came across as rich and vibrant, and they added a nice to glow to scenes when appropriate. I felt the hues were clear and vivid, with no signs of noise, bleeding, or other concerns. Black levels looked deep and dense, and shadow detail was always appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. Dark-skinned actors often get lost in many movies, but that wasn’t the case here, as they seemed to be shown correctly. Baby Boy provided a solid image that lost “A” status solely due to a few small flaws.

Even better was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Baby Boy. I expected it to offer a subdued affair, but instead the soundfield seemed to be surprisingly broad and engulfing. The mix created a nicely natural and realistic presence throughout the movie. The score showed fine stereo imaging, and music often came from other areas as well. For example, cars that passed by blasted their tunes boldly, and the music spread neatly across all five channels to really envelop the listener. There was even a little directional dialogue to spread the image.

Effects also worked well, as they showed up from all areas. From the jarring opening “womb” scene, lots of good atmospheric elements cropped up from the sides and the rears. The sounds seemed to be placed accurately, and they blended together very well. This created a very convincing impression of the environment that helped serve the movie.

Audio quality also appeared to be excellent. Dialogue consistently came across as natural and warm, and I heard no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects sounded concise and accurate. They packed a nice punch when necessary - such as during gunshots - and they lacked any concerns due to distortion. Music remained the best aspect of the mix. The score and songs always seemed bright and vivid, and they offered some serious bass. This mix really slammed the bass, and those tones sounded deep and tight. Ultimately, Baby Boy contributed a very strong soundtrack.

Baby Boy comes as a special edition release, and it packs a mix of extras. First up is an audio commentary from director John Singleton. A veteran of the format - except Shaft, he’s recorded tracks for each of his films - Singleton seems comfortable with the experience during this running, screen-specific piece. However, that’s both a blessing and a curse.

On the positive side, Singleton provides a fair amount of good information about the film. He adds some interpretation of what he wanted to do with it, and he contributes technical details and general remarks about the production. On the other hand, as was also the case with his track for Higher Learning, he often comes across as far too fond of his own handiwork. He frequently tells us how good various aspects of it are, and while he doles out praise liberally to coworkers, it still seemed like he patted himself on the back a lot of the time. Overall, the commentary offered enough information to merit a listen, but I could have lived without the more self-congratulatory aspects.

Next we get a Cinemax featurette about the movie. Entitled Baby Boy: Rites of Passage, this piece lasts 14 minutes and five second and it follows the usual format. It mixes the standard combination of shots from the movie, a few snippets from the set, and interviews with the principals. That latter primarily involves the actors, though we hear a little from Singleton as well. Overall, this show seems a lot like most other cable promotional pieces, as it exists mainly to tour the film. Still, it has some good moments, especially during the bits from Rhames, who offers a nice bit of introspection about the flick.

The Storyboard Comparisons provides a minor variation on an old theme. Three scenes appear, and before each one, we hear a short introduction and discussion from storyboard artist Walter Drummond. After that the boards run on the right of the screen with the movie on the left. All in all, this lasts for five and a half minutes. Unfortunately, the presentation makes the boards very small, but I like the inclusion of the extra verbal material about the work.

The DVD tosses in a whopping 14 Deleted and Alternate Scenes. Each of these runs between 52 seconds and three minutes, five seconds for a total of 27 minutes and 27 seconds of footage. Most of these seem interesting, though I could understand why they didn’t make the flick; they largely appear redundant, as they explore issues already seen in the movie. Nonetheless, the quality of the work is good, with one notable exception of an amateurish sequence between Jody and Peanut.

After that we find an Outtakes and Bloopers Reel. This six minute and 26 second piece follows the usual routine. We see the actors goof up and laugh about it. Sometimes I enjoy bloopers; for example, the clips on Rush Hour 2 are funnier than the movie itself. However, the bits for Boy are inane and tedious.

One much more entertaining - and more unusual - extra is The Kiki and Boo Show. Apparently part of a deleted scene, this seven minute and 10 second piece offers snippets of a fictional TV program. Kiki and Boo talk graphically as they offer sex tips. It’s crude but surprisingly funny stuff.

Two music videos make the DVD. There’s “Just a Baby Boy” from Snoop Dog featuring Tyrese and Mr. Tan. The clip shows some lip-synching but it neatly integrates the movie’s characters into a mini-story of its own; no actual parts of the film appear. The song’s mildly catchy, and the video’s not anything great, but it’s superior to the average promo for a tune from a movie.

We also get “Baby Mama” from Three 6 Mafia. This one uses some snippets from the film but it’s mostly a courtroom piece in which the rappers articulate their sides of things in front of a judge. It looks a lot like a video from the Eighties, and I can’t decide if that’s good or bad. I also haven’t figured out if I like the tune or hate it. Well, it’s unusual and interesting, at least. Note that two of the rappers have the scariest teeth you’re likely to find.

A few standard extras round out Baby Boy. Along with short text “Production Notes” in the booklet and “Filmographies” for Singleton and actors Gibson, Rhames, Dogg, Johnson, and Gooding - whose only prior film credit was 1990’s Bill Cosby flop Ghost Dad - we discover trailers for Baby Boy as well as Singleton’s Higher Learning, Boyz N the Hood and Poetic Justice. (Quality control alert: the latter is credited as Poetic Jusitce.) In addition, seven TV spots appear, most of which badly represent the movie.

Granted, that wouldn’t be hard to do, for Baby Boy isn’t an easy flick to categorize. Not quite a coming of age tale, but also not just a remake of Boyz N the Hood, Baby Boy manages to be broad and specific all at the same time. The film offers some solid acting and a fairly tough story that work well as a whole. The DVD provides very solid picture and sound as well as a nice roster of extras. I don’t know if this is a title that merits a purchase, for I’m not sure Baby Boy is a terribly rewatchable movie, but it definitely is an interesting piece of work that merits your attention.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 100
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