Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: The Brothers (2001)
Studio Line: Columbia TriStar - Refusing To Exhale

The Brothers is a fresh and hilarious look at four African-American "brothers" - lifelong friends who band together to navigate the turbulent waters of love and sex on their way to healthy, happy and committed relationships.

Jackson (Morris Chestnut - The Best Man) is a successful pediatrician who is desperate for intimacy, but terrified of commitment. Brian (Bill Bellamy - Love Jones) is the sexy old-school bachelor who fights tooth and nail to protect his independence from women he thinks are undeserving of him. Terry (Shemar Moore - TV's "The Young and the Restless") is a renowned womanizer who desperately wants to settle down. Derrick (D.L. Hughley - The Original Kings of Comedy) is a loving husband and father who always finds time for the boys, despite a demanding wife who refuses to meet his sexual demands.

Denise (Gabrielle Union - Bring it On), Sheila (Tamala Jones - Blue Streak) and Louise (Jennifer Lewis - Cast Away) are the "sisters" who teach them that the battle of the sexes is won in the heart in this brazenly comic look at love, honesty and the beauty of commitment.

Director: Gary Hardwick
Cast: Morris Chestnut, Shemar Moore, D.L. Hughley, Bill Bellamy, Gabrielle Union, Susan Dalian, Tamala Jones, Jenifer Lewis, Clifton Powell
Box Office: Budget: $6 million. Opening Weekend: $10.302 million (1378 screens). Domestic Gross: $27.457 million.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1 & Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround; subtitles English, French; closed-captioned; single sided - double layered; 28 chapters; rated R; 102 min.; $24.95; street date 7/31/01.
Supplements: Audio Commentary with Director/Writer Gary Hardwick; “A Conversation With Gary Hardwick” Featurette; Deleted Scenes, Available With or Without Director’s Commentary; Eric Benet “Love Don’t Love Me” Music Video; Theatrical Trailers; Filmographies.
Purchase: DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: B/B/B

Although Hollywood tends to place most African-American oriented films in the “hood/gangsta” genre, occasionally something with a different focus appears. Probably the most successful example of this sort of upscale, relationship-oriented movie was 1995’s Waiting to Exhale; while that flick didn’t set the box office on fire, it definitely demonstrated that African-Americans would respond positively to that kind of story as the $15 million movie went on to grab a quite respectable $66 million.

2001’s The Brothers could be seen as Exhale from the male point of view; heck, the film’s tagline was “refusing to exhale”. In this film, we find four long-time friends. All of them are successful professionals, and three of the four are single; only Derrick (D.L. Hughley) took the plunge, and even he did so solely because he impregnated his girlfriend Sheila (Tamala Jones). Derrick may be married, but his relationship has some concerns, mainly because of his wife’s refusal to gratify him orally; over three years of marriage, she often promises to do so, but she always backs out in the end. While this may sound like a trivial matter, for Derrick it appears to represent a lack of giving on the part of his wife, and this simple subject starts the ball rolling toward further marital woes.

The other three “brothers” have their own relationship issues. Brian (Bill Bellamy) is a “love-em and leave-em” sort who has burned many female bridges in his time. Brian stands on the border of becoming a serious misogynist, and he decides to stop dating black women for he feels they expect too much from men and have too much baggage. He spends some time with a white woman named Jesse (Julie Benz) but soon discovers that this isn’t the paradise he might have expected. His issues become clearer when we meet his distant and remote mother.

Probably the film’s main character, Jackson (Morris Chestnut) also has concerns that relate to women, most of which have to do with his distinct fear of commitment. On the cusp of his 29th birthday, he starts to feel old and worries that he has become pathological in his avoidance of serious entanglements. This seems to be aided by his player of a father (Clifton Powell); Jackson appears to resent the manner in which he treated his mother (Jenifer Lewis) and worries that he will become like his dad. Jackson meets an apparently-perfect woman named Denise (Gabrielle Union) but some issues with her past combine with his fears to severely complicate that relationship.

On the other side of the coin is the final “brother”, Terry (Shemar Moore). Although he also feels the impact of the march of time, he reacts in different manner: early in the film, he gets engaged to his girlfriend BeBe (Susan Dalian). Since they’ve only dated for two months, the other guys think this may be premature, but they support Terry nonetheless. However, he starts to feel the pressure, which ultimately has some calamitous results.

All of this offers an awful lot of material for a 102-minute film, and to be certain, The Brothers occasionally feels overly busy and disjointed. Plot points come and go at random, and some - such as Brian’s problems with his chilly mother and his mildly-neglected brother who’s on the verge of becoming a gang-banger - really don’t get sufficient attention; that storyline easily could have resulted in a film of its own, so the scant minutes it receives here feels excessively abbreviated.

Really, it’s this ambition that causes the most problems during The Brothers. It tries to treat the four main characters reasonably equally, though a pecking order quickly becomes clear. We mainly see the story of Jackson, which is followed by Derrick, Brian and Terry, in descending order. There wasn’t an extreme discrepancy between their screentime, but it still seemed evident that the movie favored some participants over others.

Even had the movie really solely stuck with those four and their significant others, it would have been a challenge to make the result coherent and rich. In addition, however, we see a fair amount of more extraneous characters like Jackson’s parents, his sister Chere (Tatyana Ali), Brian’s mother and half-brother, and Derrick’s senile mother (Marla Gibbs). The movie even briefly attempts to delve into the female point of view, which seems odd; the emphasis should have remained solely on the men, and the female side makes the piece seem far too ambitious. These aspects tend to muddy the waters a bit too much, as it seems like writer/director Gary Hardwick simply bites off more than such a brief piece can chew. A TV mini-series might have been a more logical place in which to explore all of these issues.

Although The Brothers definitely was a scattered, unfocused movie, it still offered an engaging and entertaining experience. I disliked the film’s exceedingly easy solutions to problems - while I won’t reveal the specifics, suffice it to say that The Brothers provides a very happy ending across the board - but I nonetheless found the flick to appear quite watchable and likable.

Part of the film’s appeal stemmed from the fact that we simply don’t see many movies that follow this topic, and I don’t mean that because of the African-American point of view. The latter aspect made The Brothers more unique, but it remains unusual to find pictures with protagonists of any race that seriously explore relationships from the male point of view. Most of the time when we see how guys look at women, it’s through sophomoric titty comedies, while The Brothers treated its subject with humor but also used realism.

Although I liked the fact that The Brothers featured successful, intelligent black male characters - a decided rarity in films - I appreciated even more the manner in which they were treated. Sometimes the mantle of race sits a little too heavily on characters, and the filmmakers feel that they have to make the participants unrealistically perfect. Think of John Prentice (Sidney Poitier) in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner; that was an example of a character who was made to be an ideal, not a person.

Happily, this didn’t occur during The Brothers. Although the characterizations still felt too thin, at least all of them tried to offer believably flawed personalities. There were no icons in the film, and that made it all the more likable and convincing. No one was perfect, while no one else was evil; each role had its positive and negative aspects.

As a whole, I thought The Brothers was a surprisingly compelling piece of work. At the risk of sounding excessively politically correct, I decided to review the film mainly to make this website a little more diverse; I didn’t much look forward to the movie, however. Nonetheless, it worked fairly well, despite some flaws. Yes, it was definitely a scattered, messy film that tried much too hard to cover every topic under the sun. A tighter focus might have been more consistently successful. However, I liked its presentation of engaging, realistic characters who may have been underdrawn to a degree but who remained believable. The Brothers offered a simplistic look at relationships, but it still was an entertaining and stimulating piece nonetheless.

The DVD:

The Brothers appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.851 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although much of the movie looked quite good, The Brothers exhibited some concerns that made the picture less than stellar.

Sharpness generally appeared to be quite strong. Through the film, I thought it seemed to be nicely crisp and detailed, with no signs of softness. However, some problems accompanied this. A moderate amount of moiré effects cropped up, mainly visible via lampshades and clothing. Speaking of the latter, apparel often made it clear that some edge enhancement was used for the transfer. At times clothes - particularly some shirts worn by Morris Chestnut - showed a distinct glow that created a halo around them. The yellow top he wore caused the most significant concerns, but other garb also led to these moderately annoying effects.

Print flaws also seemed to be slightly problematic at times. The movie exhibited occasional examples of grit and speckles, and grain looked apparent during some low-light shots. A few additional defects such as a couple of hairs and a scratch or two also showed up during the movie.

Overall, The Brothers featured a fairly low-key but natural palette, and the DVD replicated these tones well. Colors appeared to be warm and vibrant, and except for the glow that seemed to result from edge enhancement, the tones were stable and tight. Black levels were deep and rich, and shadow detail appeared clean and accurate. Many films that feature dark-skinned actors suffer from excessively dim qualities, but this one was appropriately-lit and visible. Ultimately, most of The Brothers really looked very good, but unfortunately some print flaws and excessive edge enhancement caused problems that forced me to lower my grade to a “B”.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Brothers also earned a “B”, but not due to any overt flaws. Instead, it received that mark due to its low-key nature. I didn’t expect a vivid, active soundfield from this kind of personal film, and I got what I anticipated. The track strongly emphasized the forward channels, where most of the audio stayed pretty closely toward the center. Dialogue dominated the movie, and except for the score - which displayed good stereo imaging - most of the sound tended toward light ambience. A few scenes showed better activity; for example, the club sequences provided a nicely broad and engaging environment. Also, a segment that involved gunfire demonstrated very good surround usage, as the bullets flew around the atmosphere convincingly. However, as a whole, the soundfield remained pretty passive, which ultimately suited the material well.

Audio quality seemed to be fine. Dialogue consistently sounded warm and natural, and I discerned no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects were usually a fairly minor aspect of the track, but they appeared to be clean and accurate, and when the volume level raised - such as during the gunshot sequence - the elements remained crisp without any signs of distortion. Music presented nicely rich and distinct tones, with bright highs and rich lows; the bass response could become rather tight and bold during appropriate segments. In the end, the soundtrack of The Brothers worked nicely for the film.

On this DVD, we find a decent roster of supplements. First we get a running, screen-specific audio commentary from writer/director Gary Hardwick. Although not a great track, he adds some good reflections about the movie and he provides a consistently engaging presence. At times he tends to simply tell us the story and name the actors, but Hardwick also gives a lot of interesting interpretation of the movie. He gets into the subtext and nuances that he placed in the story, and this creates a nice level of depth to the picture. He also includes some good details from the set. Overall, Hardwick was very chatty, and he seemed like a warm person. As such, I thought this was a fairly interesting commentary.

Next we discover a featurette about the film. Entitled A Conversation With Gary Hardwick, this program lives up to its name, as the 21-minute and 55-second piece is really an interview with the writer/director and not the more general documentary one might expect. His comments are intermixed with film clips, but no shots from the set or other participants appear.

The “Conversation” acts as a decent companion to the commentary. In this program, Hardwick spends more time in discussions of the cast, as we learn more about how he decided to use each of them. Some additional details about the production appear, but the actors remained the main focus of the piece. I could have lived without the film clips, as they were excessive and redundant since we already own the movie, but this was still a reasonably interesting interview.

Four Deleted Scenes appear on the DVD. Each of these lasts between 50 seconds and three minutes, for a total of six minutes, 45 seconds worth of footage. For the most part, these were excised snippets of existing clips; only one - which involves Jackson, Terry and Denise at Jack’s office - was a totally new piece. None of them seemed to be terribly fascinating, but they were moderately useful.

Except for the second scene - “Grand Canyon” - all of the snippets can be viewed with or without commentary from Hardwick. He continues to prove chatty, and he adds a lot of new information about the production during these discussions. He also relates the most important details of all when he lets us know why the scenes were removed. I don’t understand why he didn’t discuss “Grand Canyon”, but his remarks for the other scenes were helpful.

A few other extras round out the DVD. A music video for Eric Benet’s “Love Don’t Love Me” appears. This four minute and 10-second clip offers the usual mix of lip-synching and movie snippets, though the latter were kept to a merciful minimum. As for the performance scenes, mainly we watch Benet as he scores with some babes - yeah, there’s an original concept for a video!

We get Filmographies for writer/director Hardwick plus actors Chestnut, Bellamy, Hughley and Moore. Finally, we discover a slew of trailers. In addition to a clip for The Brothers itself, the disc includes ads for The Broken Hearts Club, The Wedding Planner, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Trois and John Carpenter’s Ghost of Mars. The latter is the oddball in the group; the others deal with relationships, while it looks like a pretty standard sci-fi action flick. I guess the folks at Screen Gems think it needs all of the promotion it can get, or perhaps they figure Chestnut’s fans from his Boyz In the Hood days will turn out to see Ice Cube kick some Martian ass.

Although The Brothers is an overstuffed package of a movie, I still thought it was fairly interesting and entertaining. To be certain, it includes far too many subjects for it to reasonably cover all of them in its 102 minutes, but I felt it did acceptably well for itself nonetheless. The DVD offers good but unexceptional picture and sound, and it also provides some positive extras. Ultimately, The Brothers was an acceptably compelling combination of romance, comedy and drama, and the DVD seems solid enough to merit your attention.

Equipment: Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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