'Four Brothers' in Mayhem

In
In "Four Brothers," Andre Benjamin, left, Garrett Hedlund, Mark Wahlberg and Tyrese Gibson start blowing things up when their Ma is slain. (By George Kraychyk -- Paramount Studios Via Reuters)

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By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 12, 2005

A Russian general once declared that the way his army cleared minefields was to march through them. It's as if he changed his career choice and went to Hollywood and ended up directing "Four Brothers," which shows that same crazed, relentless march and damn-the-consequences theory of operation.

The movie -- directed, in fact, by John Singleton, not Marshal Zhukov -- is loud, stupid, unrealistic, overdone, without a thought in its ugly little head and kind of enjoyable. Basically, it's just an urban revenge melodrama full of heinous murders and righteous vengeance-takings without a thought to plausibility. Its two best performances turn out to be at the edges, not the center.

As for the nominal heroes, played by Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, Andre Benjamin (half of the enormously popular hip-hop duo OutKast) and Garrett Hedlund, it could be said that they are serviceable without any danger of distinction. Any four guys picked off a bus between LaBrea and Fairfax (or 13th and Connecticut) could have done just as well. The two stunning performances in "Four Brothers" come from Terrence Dashon Howard, who's just broken out in "Hustle & Flow," as a cop; and the great Nigerian actor Chiwetel Ejiofor -- brilliant in "Dirty Pretty Things" -- as the really scary villain. The two of them -- ach, what are all those losers doing between them? -- are believable without being overbearing, commanding without being loud, authentic without showing off too much research. Memo to Tinseltown: Make a movie starring these guys on opposite sides and, baby, you'd have something special.

The movie begins with the murder of Ma. Poor Ma, those 12-gauge shotguns do you no good at all. Ma Mercer, a kind of community activist/gadfly type represented ("played" would be too strong a word) by Fionnula Flanagan, happens to be in a Detroit convenience market when some bad boys take it down. She goes down with it.

Her four adopted sons want justice. I suppose this marks a step forward in civilization, in that the foursome are broken down into racially harmonious components, showing that white and black can coexist, respect and even love one another. It even develops that the villains are racially diverse. Fortunately, before the movie becomes an Up With People ad, the shooting resumes.

And once it does, it hardly ever stops, except to make a little room for the beatings and explosions. Not exactly what you call your touchy-feely thing. The four guys, as I say, are okay. The defining characteristic seems to be that all are stupid, Wahlberg's Bobby the stupidest of all. If he's not yelling, he's barking, and if he's not barking, he's shooting or punching. A subplot briefly puts one of them -- Benjamin's Jeremiah -- under suspicion, but if he were the bad guy, why would the movie be called "Four Brothers"?

If the guys suspect someone was involved in the killing, they just show up and pull a roscoe. They may shoot, they may slug, they may chase in a car, they may just intimidate by general rowdiness and noise, but they are never subtle. This is so even at a high school basketball game, where they take an entire crowd and all the players hostage. Oddly, the police don't seem to mind.

There's a plot, not that I understood it. It turns out that Ma wasn't knocked off in random violence, but as part of a larger scheme. But more engrossing by far than the story were the endless action sequences. My favorite involved thugs with weapons so advanced the SEAL teams aren't using them in the sandbox yet. They turn the Mercer family homestead into a lace doily for about 10 minutes.

There is also a very nice car chase through the snow (again, the cops don't notice) as well as a kind of mano a mano on frozen reaches of Lake Superior that had an existential grandeur to it. As a background for a story untouched by morality, the ruined burg of Motor City is appropriately grotesque. The movie may siphon off at least a dozen IQ points, but it does make time fly.

Four Brothers (108 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for violence, gore and extreme profanity.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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