The film's setup is simple. Dre (Taye Diggs) and Sidney (Sanaa Lathan) have been very close friends since childhood, when hip-hop was just coming into its own. Dre is a well-known hip-hop record producer who is unhappy with his job and is about to get married. Sidney is a magazine editor who is working on a book about the origins of hip-hop and cannot find the right man to fit her groove. She is of course secretly in love with Dre because he is the only man who can connect with her and her music, and Dre is secretly in love with Sidney because she is the only woman who will support his dreams. Both Dre and Sidney have problems with the other's initial choice of spouse (Nicole Ari Parker and Boris Kodjoe).
I've left some extraneous details out, but basically, Brown Sugar follows the steps Dre and Sidney take in their personal and professional lives as they discover they are meant to be together. We've seen so many of these kinds of predictable, formulaic films that you can guess the outcome. We already know they are meant to be together. The only question is how long it will take before they figure it out. In the case of Brown Sugar, it takes entirely too long. In fact, restless viewers at my screening (including me) were ready for Brown Sugar to come to an end long before the final scene.
At the very least, if the filmmakers were going to use this generic formula, they could have infused the journey with a greater emphasis on the music. This movie would have been a great opportunity to educate me on the inner world of hip-hop. Unfortunately, the characters just talk endlessly about the music, and aside from a few glimpses into recording sessions or visits to clubs, we rarely are permitted to actually hear it. For a film that talks so much about the past and future of hip-hop, why not pervade the film with the music from relative unknown artists trying to break into the hip-hop scene - isn't this Dre's job anyhow?
Brown Sugar is a beautifully photographed film - even the highly made-over stars are uniformly attractive. But the biggest problem with Brown Sugar is that it over-commits to the dry romance and fails to feature enough of the tunes, which could have energized the story. The film starts with an intelligent retrospective of hip-hop roots as told by many of today's biggest artists, but then we're quickly led into the boring and predictable romance. The final product is completely void of anything emotional or exciting. In fact, it is just plain lazy.
DVD features a full length commentary from the director (and inexplicably, the editor joins him), deleted scenes, and two music videos pulled from the film's score.
The queen of sugar.
Run time: 109 mins
In Theaters: Friday 11th October 2002
Box Office USA: $27.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $27.4M
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 66%
Fresh: 56 Rotten: 29
IMDB: 6.4 / 10
Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Producer: Peter Heller
Starring: Sanaa Lathan as Sidney 'Syd' Shaw, Taye Diggs as Andre Romulus 'Dre' Ellis, Mos Def as Chris 'Cav' Anton Vichon, Queen Latifah as fracine, Nicole Ari Parker as Reese Marie Wiggam Ellis, Boris Kodjoe as Kelby Dawson