We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Anyone worried that John Singleton has gone lowest-common-denominator needs to know that Four Brothers includes not one joke about black people playing hockey. That oughta count for something—especially from the guy whose last project was 2 Fast 2 Furious. In his latest, the Boyz N the Hood auteur follows four up-to-no-good adopted siblings as they return home to Detroit after their foster mother is killed during a grocery-store robbery. When the hockey-loving Mercer brothers—dissatisfied with the police’s “random act of violence” explanation—launch their own hard-knuckled investigation into who murdered their made-for-sainthood mom, they uncover a wide-ranging conspiracy involving everyone from the local hoodlums to the city council. Who knew so many people had so much to gain from gunning down a little old lady? Possibly not newbie feature scripters David Elliot and Paul Lovett. “We’re winging it,” says Bobby (Mark Wahlberg) to Jeremiah (OutKast’s André Benjamin) when the latter asks how they and foster bros Jack (Garrett Hedlund) and Angel (R&B singer Tyrese Gibson) plan to track down the killers, and the story’s numerous plot twists and red herrings don’t prove him wrong. Singleton, about as far out of his South Central Los Angeles element as he was in Furious’ pastel-toned Miami, adapts to—and makes the best of—this scattered new setting with surprising ease. The sequence in which three of the Mercers chase a pair of hit men through the snowy streets of Detroit—practically tractionless, crashing into each other and everything around them—is an exhilarating demolition derby on ice (not to mention an echo of the boys’ rough-and-tumble reunion over sticks and skates). Even better, Singleton’s depiction of the ways violence infiltrates everyday life is as dynamic and effective among the older, blue-collar residents of the Motor City as it was among the youthful strivers of Boyz. But for its grit and atmosphere, Four Brothers is still occasionally sensationalistic, yanking on the heartstrings as heavily as the Mercer boys throw their punches. Perhaps someone should have reminded Elliot and Lovett that, in the big league, dropping the gloves gets you five minutes in the penalty box.—Matthew Borlik