Boyz n the Hood is a movie so fraught with cultural significance that it's hard to remember if it's any good. Upon its release, it was immediately hailed for its startling depiction of gang violence in South Central L.A. But then, in a sort of nightmarish Purple Rose of Cairo twist, the violence jumped from the screen to the audience. All around the country, at scores of theaters showing Boyz, acts of violence--shootings, stabbings, brawls--heaped gasoline on the already burning controversy surrounding the cultural influence of gangsta rap and its glorification of the gangsta lifestyle. Less than a year after Boyz' release, racial tensions boiled over and rioting swept through the very neighborhoods where the film's action is set. And while it would be absurd to claim that Boyz had anything to do with the start of the unrest, the riots made it clear that the rage and frustration depicted in the film was eerily on the money. So, more than a decade later, in a completely different racial climate, with gangsta rap now as mainstream as mac-and-cheese, does Boyz n the Hood still play? Yeah, in a very raw way, it does.
Writer-director John Singleton was only 23 when Boyz hit the big screen in 1991, and if the intervening years have brought anything into sharper focus, it's his immaturity as a writer. Boyz is a sledgehammer of a film -- powerful, but hardly subtle. Singleton centers his story on the character of Tré Styles, who's about 11 in the opening sequence. After Tré gets into a fight at school, he's taken to live with his father, Furious (Laurence Fishburne), who has a better shot at teaching him how to be a man than his mother (Angela Bassett) does. Tré's best friends are Doughboy -- a tough, pudgy, troublemaking little kid -- and Ricky -- Doughboy's good-looking, athletic younger brother. As the sequence winds to a close, Furious' paternal influence keeps Tré out of trouble while the fatherless Doughboy ends up being arrested for shoplifting.
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