Three years after his acclaimed independent film Straight Out of Brooklyn, director Matty Rich followed up with The Inkwell for Touchstone Pictures. Taking place in 1976, it centers on young Drew (Larenz Tate in his second movie appearance) who's a bit of an odd kid from upstate New York- he's introduced talking to a handmade figure riding on the back of his bike, and it's casually mentioned later that he came close to burning his family's house down while playing around in the garage. His dad Kenny (Joe Morton) is a former Black Panther, and neither are too thrilled with Drew's mother (Suzzanne Douglas) basically forcing them all on a family trip to the home of her sister Francis (Vanessa Bell Calloway) and her wealthy Republican husband Spencer (Glynn Turman) at Martha's Vineyard. The movie's title refers to the name of a beach there frequented by other wealthy African-Americans, or as Spencer says "Blacks who have made it." This sets off the first of many arguments with Kenny who reacts to that with "What about those who weren't allowed to make it- where's their Inkwell?"
The movie keeps a mostly lighthearted tone while also getting into problems such as those in Drew's family. Besides Kenny's resentment of his more fortunate relatives, his relationship with his wife is on somewhat shaky ground as well. The only person close to Drew's age is his cousin "Junior" (Duane Martin) who allows him to tag along with his friends but finds him a bit of an embarrassment. He still gives him a bit of coaching in how to be "cool" and eventually Drew reaches a turning point, giving himself a new look, making friends with an older woman (AJ Johnson) whose husband (Morris Chestnut) is brazenly cheating on her, and even gets the attention of Lauren, the hottest but most stuck-up girl in town (Jada Pinkett, pre-Smith.) While the movie has had its share of criticism for its shifting moods, it's always worked well for me although it may have left some audiences unsure of what to think of it- this was a relatively minor release put out during the pre-summer "off-season" before the big films were due to hit a few months later. While most of the focus is on Drew and his typical summer movie "coming of age" story, his father's general race-related frustration and anger at his relatives for "selling out" is also a big theme here. The most memorable scene remains where Drew, his cousin and friends head out to a nude beach expecting to "score," only to find the place populated with old and unattractive people sunning themselves. It's a bit of a throwaway in the grand scheme of things but still gets a big laugh from me. The recreation of the time period which wasn't relatively that long ago when it was shot is also fun- the rich aunt and uncle's house just screams 1970s and would have looked outlandish come January 1980, 8-track tapes and players are also featured prominently.
Kino's hi-def presentation is at the proper 1.85 ratio and looks close to how I remember the film print looking back when I projected it during its theatrical run. The color scheme is interesting as much of it is unremarkable, with a mostly brownish-gold tone, but the occasional bright colors in the cast's outfits stand out strongly. This movie was intentionally shot with a bit of a soft focus that makes it difficult to zero in on precise details, such as the 8-track tape labels (being a big collector of them when this movie was made, I'd always wondered what titles they were but that will have to remain a mystery.) I only noticed some very slight compression artifacts in one night scene but the rest appears fine; oddly there is one day scene where the picture fades in and out of a bluish tint, something I saw occasionally on film prints but never noticed on a negative which this transfer was likely taken from.
The Dolby Stereo mix is presented in 2-channel DTS Master Audio and does a decent job, keeping most of the dialogue centered with ambient sounds in the left and right with some occasional echoing in the surrounds, particularly when pop tunes of the period are featured. Subtitles which show dialogue and song lyrics are included.
Director Matty Rich recorded a new commentary track for this release, which is an interesting listen. He looks back on the movie as a good experience, giving the usual praise to the actors, mentioning some famous people who dropped by the set to visit and remembering the hot weather. The movie's trailer is included (in 4x3 standard-def) which is a bit cringe-worthy as it tries to sell it as a "wacky" comedy which it certainly isn't. Trailers for Indian Summer, Born Yesterday and The Associate are also included, as are home video promos for Hope Springs and The Sixth Man.
One of cinema's first "flashbacks" to the 1970s, The Inkwell is still entertaining today with a good mix of lightheartedness and serious issues. I'm glad to see this minor title get the Blu-Ray treatment; the commentary track is a great bonus for fans as well.