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With: Sanaa Lathan, Simon Baker, Donald Faison, Lee Garlington, Taraji P. Henson, Blair Underwood, Alfre Woodard, Golden Brooks, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Mike Epps
Written by: Kriss Turner
Directed by: Sanaa Hamri
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual references
Running Time: 100
Date: 01/29/2006

Something New (2006)

2 Stars (out of 4)

'Something' for Nothing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

On paper, the new romantic comedy Something New stands primed to blow the interracial love story off the map.

But making her feature debut, music video director Sanaa Hamri (Mariah Carey, Prince, etc.) mechanically directs Something New right out of the romantic comedy rulebook, ignoring any potential ironies or unique ideas.

Sanaa Lathan (Out of Time, Alien vs. Predator) stars as African-American career woman Kenya, constantly busy, socially withdrawn and always uptight. Kenya believes, and her professional friends agree, in the "Black Tax," i.e. that she must work twice as hard to earn the same benefits as white employees.

She's so worried about getting a promotion in her mostly-white office that she has no time for dating. So she goes home every night to her mostly-beige house.

She does have time for her friends, however. Apparently, they have each settled into some perfect groove in which their perfect lives give them nothing to worry about, and so they spend all their time badgering Kenya, goading her into finding a boyfriend.

Unfortunately, the talented Taraji P. Henson, who gave such a gloriously intuitive performance in last year's Hustle & Flow, plays one of these pesky friends, forsaking all of the goodwill she received for that previous role.

Kenya has a list of perfect qualities she would like in a man, and so when a blind date turns out to be sensitive, white Brian (Simon Baker, Land of the Dead), she turns and runs.

Written by television scribe Kriss Turner ("Everybody Hates Chris"), Something New drags out its first clich´┐Ż with the "unexpected second meeting." Without this device, Harry and Sally never would have moved past their disastrous cross-country car share and into memorable romantic comedy territory.

At a wedding, Kenya compliments the hostess on her beautifully landscaped garden. She introduces the landscaper, who turns out to be -- surprise! -- Brian. Brian leaves his card in case she ever wants her back yard landscaped.

It's patently obvious where all this is going, but the unusual thing about Something New is that the character types have been reversed and re-colored. Kenya is essentially the Ben Stiller type, or to put a nicer spin on it, the Hugh Grant type. She's the worrier who stands on decorum and follows society's soul-crushing mores.

"Society" in this case consists of her proud, socially respectable mother (Alfre Woodard) and father (Earl Billings) and her womanizing younger brother Nelson (Donald Faison, who at least gets to clown a bit). No matter how educated and forward thinking these moderns are, they still can't get behind the idea of an interracial romance, especially with a guy well below Kenya's income bracket.

Brian, on the other hand, is just too good to be true. He's the sensitive, environmental type who likes to "be one with the earth." He apparently has no friends or family, except for the Mexican immigrant workers who sell the various plants he uses in his work (he greets them with hugs).

He is also unfazed by the interracial aspect of his new relationship. We see him at parties full of African-Americans, boldly attempting to make friends, while they scorn him and mock him to his face. Yet he's always ready with a touchy-feely speech about how none of this matters.

Basically, Brian is the kooky girl (the Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, etc.) whose job it is to unwind the uptight protagonist and get her "back to nature."

Ironically, Hollywood has traditionally portrayed African-Americans as the people of the earth, in touch with the natural, simple ways, while white people are too industrialized. Something New has cleverly reversed this stereotype, but with no commentary or awareness whatsoever. The filmmakers merely play their new twist as a traditional romantic comedy gambit.

Something New genuinely wishes to say something prudent about race and race relations, but its negotiation table is off-balance. On the white side is Brian, who is barely even human, and on the black side is a bunch of people with strong beliefs who instantly change their collective mind when the plot calls for it. How can they condemn Kenya and her lifestyle choice, while they accept her brother, who turns up with a series of sexy (yet brain-dead) girlfriends?

The movie lumbers into its final section with "the brief breakup" (and a temporary new beau, Blair Underwood), and one character getting into a car and racing down the street to proclaim their eternal love for the other.

Indeed, Something New ultimately fumbles the race card in favor of the Meg Ryan card, hoping for a slot in the colorless rom-com canon. Improbably, through all this, Baker and Lathan have quite a nice onscreen chemistry together; they might have had something if they had simply been color-blind.

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