In this tale of four foster brothers out to nail the ba ds who shot down their activist mother, director John Singleton tries to blend the social drama that made his name in 1991’s Boyz N the Hood and the junk instincts that made him box-office gold with 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious. It’s a head-on collision. But you can’t deny the sparks.
Mark Wahlberg is in his element as Bobby Mercer, the hard-case older brother who returns to Detroit ready to kick ass. That takes whipping his siblings into shape. He rides Angel (Tyrese Gibson) by questioning the loyalty of his girlfriend Sofi (Sofia Vergara): “She’s got hard dick in her right now,” he sasses. Baby brother Jack, played by Garrett Hedlund in the kind of heartthrob role that lit a fire under Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise, is a third-rate rock who becomes a target for Bobby’s homophobic humor. OutKast’s Andre Benjamin delivers the film’s most subtle and affecting performance as Jeremiah, the brother who stayed behind in Detroit, watched over mom, married, had kids — and just may be involved with the wrong people.
The wrongest is Victor Sweet (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the mob boss who precipitates the film’s brutal climax on a frozen lake. Working from a script by David Elliot and Paul Lovett, Singleton keeps the action percolating with rude laughs before tragedy strikes and sentiment cracks the film’s tough veneer. What holds us are the actors, including Terrence Howard as a cop who grew up with the brothers. Howard’s ferocity and feeling remind us of his let’s-talk-Oscar tour de force in Hustle and Flow, which Singleton produced — and which radiates an authenticity that Four Brothers loses along the way.