Jason (Payne) is a timid, ordinary African American kid, in love with the beautiful Lyric (Pinkett). But the scars he carries from an uneasy upbringing at the hands of his alcoholic, Vietnam veteran father (Whitaker) make it uneasy for the boy to show his love, while he also has the taunts and bullying of his angry brother (Woodbine) to deal with.
There have been some major claims made by the producers - the team responsible for New Jack City and House Party - for this, yet another entry in the new black cinema. That it overturns the ghetto cliches of post-Boyz N The Hood gangsta movies. That it is serious and literate and worthy. However, Jason's Lyric, never lives up to such plaudits feeling more hastily assembled and old-fashioned rather than a considered work of art.
Set in the poverty zone of Houston's Fifth Ward it is basically a corny variation on the good seed/bad seed theme which has inspired Hollywood gangster pictures from the year dot. Allen Payne is the sensitive hardworking "mama's boy" who wants to pay his dues to the system and move on up; Bokeem Woodbine is the bad-ass brother who won't let him leave the ghetto. And Jada Pinkett is the light-skinned African American princess (quoting classical poet John Donne, no less) who comes between them. You just know it has to end in gun-toting tragedy and, predictably enough, it does.
At least Forest Whitaker is there to give proceedings some weight. Popping up intermittently in flashback as the Bad Father who returns from Vietnam a drunken wreck, he pretty much steals the show.
Working up a strident head of steam in time for tragedy to strike, Director McHenry suggests that the legacy of violence is in some way the responsibility of government rather than of some mythically defined "family"; contradicting the powerful messages of Boyz N The Hood which levels responsibility at the individual.
Well acted, intelligent and taut, but would have counted for so much more if we hadn't been here a thousand times before.