Why has John Singleton's "Baby Boy" been marketed as a sequel of sorts to his striking 1991 debut, "Boyz in the Hood"? The latter was a hard-hitting, emotionally complex drama about growing up young, black and troubled on the tough streets of South Central Los Angeles. Baby Boy, although set in roughly the same neighborhood, has neither the heart nor the soul of "Boyz."
Jody (singer/model/VJ Tyrese Gibson) is the film's title character, a particularly notorious victim of the Peter Pan syndrome. At age 20, he's fathered two children by two different women: his reasonably levelheaded girlfriend, Yvette (Taraji P. Henson), and his childlike part-time lover, Peanut (Tamara LaSeon Bass). But the young dad chooses to live at home with his 36-year-old mom, Juanita (A.J. Johnson), where he spends his time tinkering with model cars, working on low-rider bicycles and palling around with a fellow slacker, the hotheaded Sweetpea (Omar Gooding, Cuba's brother).
"Leave the nest!" Juanita yells at her son. He thanks her for her hospitality by suggesting that she was responsible for the death of his older brother, who Juanita tossed out of the house at the behest of her last boyfriend. Now there's a new man on the scene, reformed gangsta Melvin (Ving Rhames), a big man with a big ego. Surprise! He and Jody come to blows.
Fans of Singleton's early work may be disappointed by the shrill, pointless exchanges, directionless nature and tidy conclusions of "Baby Boy." Perhaps "tidy" is too weak a word: Murder is proffered as a problem-solving strategy that carries no repercussions, either moral or legal.
As is his habit, Singleton, elicits strong performances from his actors, particularly his star, a multitalented entertainer who might really shine if given a better role. Rhames is his usual fearsome self, a hard-bodied tough guy with an electrifying screen presence; and Johnson does fine work as a world-weary survivor, a former teen-age mother seeking peace and love after all these years. Snoop Dogg adds sparks as a scary ex-con, a doper equipped with a laconic drawl and a menacing swagger. But it's too little, too late.