Before you put John Singleton’s Baby Boy next to his Boyz N the Hood, Poetic Justice, and Shaft, know this: There’s no ‘hood in this story, not in the traditional shoot-’em-up street-life sense. Although Jody (pretty boy Tyrese Gibson) and his friend Sweet Pea (Omar Gooding, Cuba’s younger brother) have no money because they don’t have jobs, there’s not much they lack for: Both live in nicely furnished suburban homes and are surrounded by plenty of other hardworking adults whom they can go to when they need a little green. Sure, Jody, at 20, has two children by two different women, and he’s haunted by visions of his own death, but the tastes we’re given of his connections with the thug life are shown as extreme cases, not as his day-to-day reality. With his mother (A.J. Johnson) encouraging him to move out of the house and finally start acting like a man, Jody whines that if he’s killed, she’ll be responsible for forcing him out onto the streets. But it’s hard to see what’s so damn dangerous about his daily routine of driving his girlfriend to her office job, getting food at the drive-through, and helping his momma tend her garden. And when Sweet Pea starts complaining about the fact that he doesn’t work—Jody finally starts selling women’s clothing door-to-door—you want to tell him to just shut up and get a job already. Both friends are able-bodied and intelligent, and their alleged hardship is just too much to buy, especially when they’re discussing it on the well-manicured lawn of one of their homes. But if you throw out the movie’s main conceit—that modern-day African-American men are infantilized rather than toughened by the ‘hood and thus try to avoid adult responsibility for as long as possible—Baby Boy is an engaging and well-acted story about love, jealousy, family, and figuring out what’s important to you—even if the usually thoughtful exchanges between characters are mostly screamed at emotional levels hard to watch for two-plus hours. Jody doesn’t take life or his attempts at happiness lightly—which makes Baby Boy anything but childish. —Tricia Olszewski