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Higher Learning Review

Image for Higher Learning

People from all different walks of life, encounter racial tension, rape, responsibility, and the meaning of an education on a university campus

★★★★★

After his Oscar-nominated debut Boyz N The Hood John Singelton was widely regarded as the next big thing, a force to be reckoned with. But after the drab Poetic Justice and now this, it seems that the director may well be cursed by his own, initial, success. This very personal vision of university life, laboured with message(ital), never gets anywhere near the visceral punch packed by Boyz.
Although set on a college campus, this eschews Animal House frat party shenanagins in favour of being meaningful(ital). This is the school of hard knocks. The story centres on three main characters — Malik (Epps), a would-be track star with an attitude problem, daddy’s girl Kristen (Swanson) out to prove her independence and Remy (Rapaport), the good ol’ country boy who just wants to party — arriving at the fictional Columbus University which is soon revealed as a mirror for the ghettoised society outside. Malik and Remy line up on opposite sides of the divide — Malik with his afro-centric brothers, Remy with his Neo-Nazi brothers.
Kristen, meanwhile, wakes up to the real world in a very different way when some drunken late night gropings turn into date rape. She seeks solace in the women’s group and soon finds herself wanting to get more than friendly with its lesbian leader, the ethereal Taryn (Jennifer Connelly).
Racism, clearly, is the main focus here and as the battle lines are drawn, it’s a tortuously slow two hours of overdone preachiness before the violence escalates towards the inevitable crazed-gunman-on-the-roof-type tragedy. Ironically it’s those characters on the periphery that seem to have a firmly grasp on reality: Kristen’s room mate (Regina King), Malik’s bright girlfriend (Tyra Banks) and Lawrence Fishburne as a wise old professor. Ultimately, it’s all disturbingly reminiscent of an episode of Brookside, only not as good.

Good intentions, but dull and predictable.