John Singleton tries to a make a gritty urban drama starring Mark Wahlberg (The Italian Job, I Heart Huckabees) with Four Brothers. The stylish visualist of films like Boyz In The Hood and Baby Boy just can't smooth out "the edge, emotion, action, and abundant humor" of a reunion that leads to vengeance against the woman that raised the title characters.
Unfortunately, a B-movie emerges with some cool soundtrack songs recalling the great Motown artists like The Temptations and Marvin Gaye. Singleton's sense of artistry when it comes to integrating storytelling with humanity and reality seems to have abandoned him. The problem here really comes from an undernourished plot that doesn't serve the characters and amuses the audience from the profane jocularity arising in their overrall delinquent milieu.
One would have thought that the gifted director who has lost his luster as he's gotten more commercial might have pilfered some interesting ideas from something like Mystic River to incorporated here. Yet, the death of the adoptive mother, a touching Finnola Flannagan of The Others, doesn't help in being attached to what two white and at least one black man of two feel necessary to do after her Evelyn Mercer is shot in a liquor store robbery after teaching a young black boy a lesson in shoplifting.
More of the mother and her relationship to Wahlberg's Bobby, Tyrese Gibson's Angel, Andre Benjamin's Jeremiah, and Garrett Hedlund's Jack only comes in short flashbacks, especially at a Thanksgiving meal. But, Four Brothers gravitates into a discordant aggression, embodied by Wahlberg's sinewy toughguy in Bobby that elicits much laughter in putting all around him in his or her place.
Gibson is a cool customer and seems not to mind as his soft lover in Angel is controlled by his passionate Latina girlfriend Sofi (Sofia Vergara). Benjamin, who was more laid back and funny as an unexperienced hitman in Be Cool, is the overachieving sibling out to redevelop a warehouse into lofts. Hedlund, seen in the rich sports picture Friday Night Lights, plays the little brother who's into hard rock and covered with tatoos with a bit of sensitivity. Yet, all of the main and supporting characters with the possible exception of Flannagan are never explored at more than face value.
The Mercers will begin to interrupt all sorts of activities in Detroit to find out a robbery gone bad was an execution and the script doesn't speak too highly of the city police force where there is one dirty cop in Detective Fowler (Josh Charles). The better side of the law is from Terrence Howard's Lt. Green who could be a relative of the Kevin Bacon role in the aforementioned Mystic River. But, Howard, who is riveting in Hustle & Flow, is a pawn to show the contrast of his childhood hockey-playing friends going down a different path. And, Taraji P. Henson, his intimate pregnant whore in Hustle, is given little to do as Jeremiah's wife, Camille.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is a black British actor who goes from Woody Allen's Melinda & Melinda to a well-dressed Detroit mafioso, Victor Sweet, who becomes intent on handling the brothers, especially when it concerns an insurance policy that Jeremiah needs to cash in. A peculiar scene that was amusing for some had a loathing Sweet having a corrupt politician sit at a kid's table while he was playing cards and a minion eat a plate of food thrown on the floor.
Wahlberg's character drives Four Brothers and the crowd roots for him, but really the only sympathetic character is Jeremiah who has gotten more of the family values from Evelyn. Singleton stages some point-blank, drive-by mayhem with visceral force, but the camerawork isn't as persuasive as the pervasive language when it comes to entertainment. And, the chase scenes are more choppy and claustrophobic, especially one that is hard to follow during a heavy snowstorm. There are four cool dudes in a chilly Detroit, substituted with some shooting in Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, yet a barrenness and desperation overspreads the vitality that Four Brothers tries to emphasize between human nature and an urban environment.