Baby Boy opens with a shocking, surreal scene of a grown man in the womb. He is Jody, a twenty-year-old African-American man-child, who still lives with his mother (A.J. Johnson) in South Central Los Angeles, despite having fathered two children by two different women: Yvette (Taraji P. Henson) and Peanut (Tamara Bass). Jody is played by Tyrese Gibson, the model, musician and MTV VJ, who invests the role with humor, heat and a touching vulnerability. Jody is haunted by dreams of his own violent death. He rejects Yvette's loyalty by cheating on her. He resents his mother's openly sexual relationship with Melvin (the great Ving Rhames), an old-school gangster who wants Jody out of the house. The only person who isn't pushing Jody to grow up is his gang-banger friend Sweet Pea (Omar Gooding, Cuba's brother). Writer-director John Singleton (Shaft) revisits the South Central scene of his 1991 debut film, Boyz N the Hood. The new film lacks the cumulative impact of Boyz, since Singleton allows repetition and sermonizing to dull his theme about the infantilization of black males. But Baby Boy leaves you shaken. Gibson's scenes with an electric Snoop Dogg as an ex-con packing a grudge and a gun give the film the power and potency of rap.
From The Archives Issue 313: March 20, 1980