By Rob Brunner
July 13, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT
Kobal Collection

When Boyz N the Hood (1991, R, 1 hr., 52 mins.) hit theaters in the summer of 1991, John Singleton (Poetic Justice, Shaft) was a 23-year-old first-time director, Laurence Fishburne was best known as Cowboy Curtis on Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and South Central Los Angeles was largely thought of, if it was thought of at all, as a miserable hellhole teeming with Crips, crack, and Uzis. Singleton’s coming-of-age drama changed all of that, turning him and much of his cast into Hollywood stars and humanizing the beleaguered residents of L.A.’s simmering inner city. At the time, it was a revelation: a deeply informed look at a hidden world where real human beings loved and laughed and hoped amid the gunfire.

Two decades later, though, the movie often plays like the world’s most potty-mouthed after-school special. Despite strong performances from Fishburne and acting newbie Ice Cube, Boyz suffers from some wooden writing and a hilariously schlocky instrumental score that’s totally at odds with the film’s gritty realism; some scenes now feel as dated as the movie’s high-top-fade haircuts. As important as it remains historically, it just doesn’t hold up well in the age of The Wire, an incomparably more nuanced and sophisticated take on urban misery. All these years later, it now seems clear that Boyz N the Hood‘s cultural significance outweighs its artistic achievement.

And yet in spite of the movie’s weaknesses, its core story continues to resonate. Two good kids, Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and Ricky Baker (Morris Chestnut), try to survive South Central’s stew of violence and degradation, one with the firm guidance of an upstanding father (Fishburne), the other with just a mom and a street-hardened half brother (Ice Cube). ”Any fool with a d— can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children,” says Fishburne’s character (the excellently named Furious Styles), laying out one of the movie’s key themes. At the still-wrenching climax, it’s hard not to be moved by both the kids’ struggles and Furious’ commitment to his son.

This 20th-anniversary edition is a bit thin on EXTRAS, recycling a John Singleton commentary track, a decent making-of documentary, and other leftovers from previous DVD releases while adding a new featurette on the film’s lasting relevance. Tacking on the corny early-’90s music video for Tevin Campbell’s soundtrack contribution, ”Just Ask Me To,” certainly doesn’t make the film feel any fresher. B

  • Movie
  • R
  • 107 minutes
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