WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
In 1991, a young director named John Singleton stunned critics and audiences with a powerful little movie called Boyz N the Hood. I've always wondered what happened to that director, because he's clearly not behind such obvious and manipulative films as Higher Learning and Baby Boy. He can't be the same guy. Whereas Boyz was an efficient, tightly scripted incendiary device, Baby Boy lurches along, mortally wounded by overt preachiness, bloated length, and redundancy.
Baby Boy is the story of 20-year-old Jody (Tyrese Gibson), father to two children by different mothers. Aimless and lazy, he wants only to hang with his friends, engage in petty crime, and get into the pants of as many women as possible. He lives at home with his mother Juanita (A.J. Johnson), herself a young single mother. Jody and Yvette (Taraji P. Henson), the mother of his son, have remained close, but the impending responsibilities of parenthood and any kind of meaningful relationship are starting to weigh on Jody, even if he doesn't understand or desire those responsibilities.
The forward thrust of the story is provided by the introduction of two characters: his mother's new boyfriend Melvin (Ving Rhames) and Yvette's old boyfriend Rodney (Snoop Dog). The presence of the new potential stepdad forces Jody to consider that maybe it's time to leave the nest. And Rodney's unwelcome return from prison—straight into Yvette's apartment and bedroom—help Jody realize what he's on the brink of losing. But the story is more about Jody's internal struggle than about outward occurrences. The problem with Baby Boy is that far too many outward occurrences happen to reinforce that internal struggle. We get speeches from Jody's mom, speeches from Melvin, multiple screaming arguments from all characters, symbolic scenes of convenient violence, and worst, an opening scrawl that tells us exactly what we need to learn from the movie. This movie has an interesting message, but the film itself is about an hour too long.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Columbia Tri-Star presents Baby Boy in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The anamorphic transfer is very near flawless. I searched for defects and came up virtually empty. The crisp image remained sharp deep into backgrounds. I detected only minor softness and an instance or two of ringing, but nothing at all to be concerned about. Colors were rich and black levels deep. This is an absolutely fine transfer.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is impressive. The front soundstage was pleasingly wide, and the film's songs came across urgently—appropriate for the pounding bass of the soundtrack's rap music. Although I expected little activity from the surrounds, I noticed many subtle directional effects in both the action and the music. Dialog was rendered accurately.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
This special-edition Baby Boy disc offers a good scene-specific audio commentary by John Singleton. He's able to speak fluidly about the making of the film. He's clearly quite proud of his film and his actors, and predictably passionate about his ideas. Listening to the commentary, I wondered whether a director can become so passionate about an idea that the message overtakes the movie. I believe that's the case here.
The Cinemax featurette Baby Boy: Rites of Passage is a 14-minute promotional piece that offers clips, behind-the-scenes shots, and cast/crew interviews.
The disc offers 14 deleted and alternate scenes that offer even more "message redundancy." Singleton smartly avoided retaining these in the finished product. In fact, Baby Boy would have held together better as a film if even more of its scenes has been relegated to this section. A separate extra, called The Kiki and Boo Show, offers a crudely entertaining deleted scene in which Kiki and Boo offer sex tips.
The outtakes and bloopers are surprisingly and disappointingly yawn-inducing.
A storyboard-comparison featurette lets you compare storyboards with three scenes, and provides a discussion by storyboard artist Walter Drummond. This is a nice extra for those of use interested in the process of taking a film from concept to reality.
The disc contains two music videos: Snoop Dog's Just a Baby Boy and Three 6 Mafia's Baby Mama. The former involves some of the movie's actors and the latter uses clips from the movie.
Finally, you get trailers for Boyz N the Hood, Poetic Justice, Higher Learning, and Baby Boy. cast/crew biographies; seven TV spots; and a fairly informative DVD insert.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
There's probably a powerful, thought-provoking short film lurking somewhere inside this overlong and redundant film. Instead, Baby Boy is the equivalent of a gigantic street preacher angrily shouting his sermon over and over and over. On the plus side, the picture and sound quality are top notch.