Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Stars: Taye Diggs, Omar Epps, Richard T Jones, Sean nelson, Duane Finley, Trent Cameron, Malinda Williams, De’Aundre Bonds, Sanna Lathan Tamala Jones
This dull, tedious and relentlessly bland semi-autobiographical coming of age comedy is characterised by wooden performances, wooden direction and a leaden script.
Set in the middle class Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood (affectionately known as “the Wood” by its residents) in the mid-1980′s, the film follows the friendship between three black youths. The film opens in the present, with the imminent wedding of Roland (Taye Diggs). But with only a couple of hours before the ceremony, Roland has disappeared, and it falls to his two best friends Mike (Omar Epps, from Higher Learning, etc) and Slim (Richard T Jones, from Kiss The Girls, etc) to find him and get him to the church on time.
This is the cue for some flashback sequences recalling their first meeting at school and some key events in their enduring friendship. We follow the young Mike (played by Fresh‘s Sean Nelson), Slim (Duane Finley, making his feature film debut) and Roland (Trent Cameron, also making his debut) through school, the senior prom, a comic hold-up, and the embarrassment of their first sexual experience. In a sequence that seems like a tasteless cross between Porky’s and the recent American Pie, the three make a pact to try and lose their virginity within a month, with money riding on the outcome. We also follow the slowly developing romance between Mike and Alicia (Malinda Williams) from its awkward beginnings, and learn why the couple eventually went their separate ways.
However, there are few insightful moments or cathartic experiences to make this semi- autobiographical tale worth telling. Even though it is a film about the experience of contemporary black youth, The Wood fails the basic test of all good coming of age films. Nostalgic films are supposed to evoke memories and a sense of shared experiences that resonate with audiences of all backgrounds and persuasions, but The Wood fails to arouse any such emotional response. The film lacks any warmth, humour, or insight, and we feel little empathy for these boys in the wood.
First time writer/director Rick Famuyiwa sets up a number of potentially interesting ideas, but fails to satisfactorily develop them or follow through. The Wood has nothing of interest to say, and takes nearly two hours in which to say it. In fact, it makes the recent tedious How Stella Got Her Groove Back seem like a masterpiece by comparison. The Wood should come with its own subtitles so that audiences can understand the peculiar jive talk of the characters! Famuyiwa even resorts to the horribly clichéd technique of having one character directly address the camera during the opening scenes, but somehow this clumsy device is mysteriously dropped by the climactic wedding sequence.
For me, the best part of this awful film came when it unexpectedly broke down during the preview screening. At first, the dialogue was out of synch, making the film look like one of those old badly dubbed Bruce Lee films of the mid-’70′s. Then the screen mercifully faded to black (so to speak) for a few minutes. Unfortunately, the problem was rectified and The Wood plodded on for another interminable 80 minutes.
Even without these technical glitches, The Wood would have to rank as one of the worst films of the year!