|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
A large percent of first-time filmmakers turn to their roots for the
storyline of their movies. Such is the case with Rick Famuyiwa's debut
feature THE WOOD (short for Englewood, California, where he was
raised). This is an affable and pleasant film about a trio of guys who
reflect on their past when one of them goes AWOL on his wedding day.
Omar Epps plays Mike, who appears to be the stand-in for
Famuyiwa. At the beginning of the film, Mike breaks the fourth wall and
addresses the audience directly but this conceit is not really played out
to its fullest. It's one of the touches that this new director bungles.
The scene is set, however, Roland (Taye Diggs) is the missing groom
and his mother dispatches Mike and Slim (Richard T Jones) to find him.
Along the way, they begin to reminisce about when they first met in the
mid-1980s, when Mike was a fresh-faced kid from North Carolina who
didn't know a Crip from a Blood. The threesome bond over various
events from chasing girls to betting which one would be first to lose his
Famuyiwa has a sure touch with these scenes and he is immensely
aided by Sean Nelson as the young Mike and Malinda Williams as his
sort-of girlfriend. The enact an amusing and well-written love story that
had a ring of truth. In the present day, Mike and Slim finally find a
drunken Roland and the home of an old girlfriend but this part of the
film feels half-formed. The audience never really learns why Roland gets
cold feet and aside from looking hot, Diggs does little with the
My biggest carp with this film is the casting; not for one minute
did I believe that Nelson, Duane Finley and Trent Cameron grew up
to be Epps, Jones and Diggs, respectively. Even the characteristics of
the younger boys don't jive with the adults, particularly Slim, who comes
off as slick and a bit of troublemaker. There's no vestige of that
personality in the character created by Jones. On the other hand, it
was great to see a segment of the black community one rarely sees on
the big screen -- the middle-class.
THE WOOD is a gentle coming of age tale that could have used a
little more focus to raise it to a level of greatness. As it is, this is a
promising first film, complete with laughs and nostalgia played out
against a killer soundtrack.
MPAA rating: R for strong language and some
Running time: 106 mins.