John Singleton’s “Four Brothers” is more “Shaft” than “Boyz in the Hood”. There’s a little grit here and there, but nothing to make you sit on the edge of your seat wondering if it’ll all end okay — the answer is, it will. Well, mostly. “Four Brothers” does just enough to make you crack a smile, but never enough to convince you it’s anything particularly special, which may be its downfall if you came in expecting more. On a slightly more curious note, the film will make you realize just how stiff and uncoordinated Mark Wahlberg is when he’s required to play anything other than a temperamental street tough, because Wahlberg is entirely at home here as the black sheep brother Bobby.
“Four Brothers” stars Wahlberg as Bobby Mercer, a hothead who has return to his hometown of Detroit after his adopted mother is killed in a convenience store robbery. Bobby has three brothers, Angel (Tyrese Gibson) and Jeremiah (Andre Benjamin), both black, and Jack (Garret Hedlund), who is white. The foursome are adopted brothers whose childhood disposition was so hopeless that their foster mother decided to take it upon herself to raise them as her own. Now grown up, the brothers return to their homestead, where Jeremiah has become a successful businessman with a family and Jack is still a hopeless garage musician. Bobby, meanwhile, has done stints in prison, while Angel has just been discharged from the Marines.
At first the brothers are content to get reacquainted with each other and their new life without their mother, until evidence pointing to their mother’s death as a set-up, part of a larger conspiracy, comes their way. Further investigation involving a highly useful canister of gasoline, some handguns and shotguns, and two basketball courts start to reveal a deadly conspiracy that may or may not implicate one of the brothers. The boys are determined to find out who is the mastermind behind their mother’s death, even if they have to shoot every dog, gangbanger, and bar in Detroit to do it. Which, if you were wondering, they do.
I must admit that “Four Brothers” caught me by surprise by being much more entertaining than I thought it would be. There’s a breezy, devil-may-care quality about it that you either dig or you don’t. Director John Singleton has put on the same hat that got him through “2 Fast 2 Furious” for “Four Brothers”, whereby little makes sense and it’s mostly style over substance. For instance, early in the film Bobby interrupts a High School basketball game, punches out a student and whips out his handgun at the crowd. At this point you would expect the kids in the benches to clear out in a panic. Not so. Instead, the kids jeer Bobby for interrupting their game.
“Four Brothers” seems determined to make up for its shortcomings with crazy action set pieces, which may surprise many viewers because of the film’s trailers and advertising approach. If you just went by the trailers, you wouldn’t expect to see an insane car chase on slick, icy roads at night, a point-blank execution by the brothers that leaves young Jack in momentary shock, and a shootout outside the Mercer house that stacks the bodies high in the snowy streets. It’s unfortunate that “Four Brothers” was lost in the box office shuffle, as it’s certainly deserving of more attention. Not because it’s a movie of any high quality, but because it does what it does very well, and that in itself is a major accomplishment in a Hollywood movie.
Again, Mark Wahlberg is really good here. Maybe Wahlberg knows what it’s like to walk with a swagger and throw a punch when he should be considering his options, especially in light of all the things I’ve heard said of the man. In any case, the interplay between the four brothers makes up the highlight of the film, especially Bobby’s relentless torment of Jack via the younger brother’s less than manly lifestyle. Although all four actors do good work, it’s curious to note that the script never fully puts to use Angel’s past as an ex-Marine. Bobby is the hot-head criminal, and that comes through loud and clear in his actions. Of course being a former Marine doesn’t mean Angel has any special abilities, but since the script brought it up, you’d think they would at least use it to some degree.
If you were in the mood for cinematic gunplay, you could do worst than “Four Brothers”. Despite what the ads may say, the film does in fact qualify as an action film, which unfortunately also means it takes great liberties with logic. There are whole chunks of the story that wouldn’t pass the laugh test when it comes to believability, such as the crooked cop angle, which plays out as ridiculously silly. To wit: if you get into a fight with another cop in a pool hall, then runs after him and shoots him behind said pool hall seconds later, wouldn’t someone know “two black kids” didn’t shoot the other cop and run off as you claim, but actually you were the culprit? Apparently not, because our killer cop gets away scot free, despite having already been implicated in another crime.
Nevertheless, for what it is, “Four Brothers” is slightly a cut above the usual Hollywood fare. Singleton shows good control of the action scenes, in particular the brutal shoot-out at the Mercer home, which seems to go on forever as the bodies pile up in the snow. And although the film could have ended on a stronger note — we get, of all things, a fist fight on a frozen landscape — “Four Brothers” works well enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for those searching for a passable revenge film, but minus the raw intensity of other revenge films such as Tony Scott’s “Man on Fire”.
John Singleton (director) / David Elliot, Paul Lovett (screenplay)
CAST: Mark Wahlberg …. Bobby Mercer
Tyrese Gibson …. Angel Mercer
Andr’ Benjamin …. Jeremiah Mercer
Garrett Hedlund …. Jack Mercer
Terrence Howard …. Lt. Green
Josh Charles …. Detective Fowler
SofÃa Vergara …. Sofi