Daniel Fried

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Well, all good classics eventually come to a crashing end (Planet of the Apes, anyone?), and the works of Shakespeare are no exception. This time out, it's Othello that gets an urban/teen makeover -- and considering that Slick Willy's themes about the hazards of interracial relationships are still present after 400 years, you'd think O would be a gimme. No such luck.

With this updating, Othello and Desdemona have become Odin and Desi. Odin (Mekhi Phifer) is the sole black student at a ritzy prep school for the overly wealthy. He's also the star basketball player, destined for greatness in college ball, at least. He carries on a semi-secret love affair with Desi (Julia Stiles), a waifish Julia Stiles stock character, who is also the daughter of the dean (John Heard). The basketball coach (Martin Sheen) favors his star player, of course, virtually ignoring his own son Hugo (Josh Hartnett, in the famed and villainous Iago role), who even turns to steroids (gasp!) to improve his performance in an attempt to match Odin's court prowess. After years of no luck and less love, Hugo eventually masterminds a plan to disgrace Odin... all of which ends disastrously, as you know if you've ever read the play.

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