Wednesday, July 21, 1999

The Wood

Posted By on Wed, Jul 21, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Thanks to American Pie, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and She’s All That, 1999 can strain, push and grunt its way into movie history as the year of random pubescent sex and raunchy pranks. But don’t toss The Wood onto that pile just yet. Its title isn’t just another sexual reference (gasp). And despite the booty-grabbing celebrated in the trailers, its coming-of-age plotline is, shall we say, more well-rounded than most.

The Wood is short for Englewood, California where three 20-something African-American guys, Mike (Omar Epps), Slim (Richard T. Jones) and Roland (Taye Diggs) attended an urban high school. Their story is based on writer-director Rick Famuyiwa’s real life. It volleys between flashbacks to the trio’s high school days – Members Only jackets, Jheri curls, break dancing and vintage ’80s hip hop – and Roland’s eventful wedding day, which takes place in the late ’90s.

It does this with a clever blend of parody and authenticity – to such a degree that a viewer might think that the dialogue and plot are made up of more memories than imagination. But that isn’t to say that The Wood lacks any of the latter. After all, it’s no easy task to turn the yearbook account of three men afraid of losing their boyhood friendships to matrimony into a really good, really funny movie. But that’s exactly what The Wood is.

While the movie does have sex on its mind, it seldom finds its way into the bedroom or even the back seat of a car. The only sex scene is a semiawkward first-time encounter between young Mike (played by Sean Nelson) and his longtime crush, Alicia. The two sort of fumble around under a bedspread to the sounds of Luther Vandross’ "If I Ruled the World." But breaking away from the overdone Clueless-meets-Animal House tedium of this summer’s movie fare is one of The Wood’s lesser accomplishments.

It tops out at bringing the glory of normal middle-class lives to the big screen in lieu of the standard ghetto glamour. While their basketball court bragging tries to sound streetwise and hip to the Bloods and Crips, the boys react with a sort of hesitant awe when they run into a real gang member during a party store hold-up.

As it turns out, the "Blood" is the older brother of a classmate and he has enough heart not to mangle anybody important to the plot. The kids hide behind the Twinkie display, gripping their boxes of Tic Tacs, praying for the nightmare to end. Obviously, they aren’t intrigued by gangs; they’re happy just going to school dances, fantasizing about Vanity and Apollonia, and trying to get laid.

But if there’s a moral to this movie, it’s that you don’t always have to go all the way to have a good time.

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