BOYZ 'N THE HOOD: John Singleton emerged from USC film school with his passionate script already written, and at age 23 he made the film that spawned a score of ghetto dramas. From the opening shot--a sign reading "Stop"--to the final message, "Increase the Peace," Singleton's desire to galvanize his audience is clear. The violence destroying South Central Los Angeles is seen through the eyes of Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.), whose intelligence and common sense would be wasted in the 'hood if not for his father, Furious (Laurence Fishburne), who imparts discipline and responsibility to his son. Tre's friends aren't so lucky, though, especially Doughboy (Ice Cube), who has been in and out of institutions since childhood and now sits on his porch with a forty in his hand and a pistol in his waistband. Singleton is ambitious enough to tackle a host of problems, from African-American business practices to the bias of the SAT test, but the real power of the film lies in the performances of its principals. Cuba Gooding, in his first role, doesn't let Tre come off like a goody two-shoes, while Ice Cube gives a tragic nobility to a young man who knows he's doomed.
BABY BOY: Director John Singleton (BOYZ IN THE HOOD, SHAFT) revisits South Central L.A. with BABY BOY. Former Calvin Klein model Tyrese Gibson stars as Jody, a smooth-talking but immature young black man who has fathered children with two different women. One of them, Yvette (Taraji P. Henson), wants him to be faithful and move in with her, but Jody prefers his room at Mom's (A.J. Johnson) house, and his life of aimless womanizing and hanging out with neighborhood pal Sweet Pea (Omar Gooding). However, this childhood paradise seems about to destruct with the arrival of Mom's new ex-con boyfriend, Melvin (Ving Rhames). And when a dangerous former lover of Yvette's (Snoop Doggy Dogg in a nicely unsympathetic performance) gets out of jail and moves back in, the stage is set for Jody to either stand up like a man, or die in the attempt.
Singleton tells the story in a series of vibrant vignettes, and though he supplies plenty of crowd-pleasing sex and violence, the focus remains on his characters. A rich score of old and new rap and R&B gives the film a nice boost, and Rhames is superb as the aging former thug trying to find happiness with Jody's mom.
POETIC JUSTICE: Pop princess Janet Jackson plays Justice, a hairdresser and poet living in South Central Los Angeles, in the second film from director John Singleton. Justice saw her first love killed over a gang grudge, and ever since she's been aloof and lonely. She agrees to go on a road trip with her friend, and meets Lucky (Tupac Shakur), a love-struck mailman who soon finds that Justice will not be easily won. As they discover that they have ideas about life in common, Justice begins to realize that maybe she is not as alone as she had thought.