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Singleton balances ‘popcorn,’ serious films

Filmmaker’s latest movie is ‘Four Brothers’
/ Source: Reuters

Filmmaker John Singleton, who burst to prominence with his 1991 social drama “Boyz N the Hood,” says he has to balance his “message” movies with ”popcorn” flicks to support his more serious work.

In a recent interview, Singleton called this balancing act the “yin and yang” of his life in Hollywood as he promoted his latest directorial effort, “Four Brothers,” an inner-city action movie that mixes a little message with a lot of mayhem in a revenge tale with a violent take on family values.

“It’s my personal stamp on the urbanization of the Western,” said Singleton, who at 24 became the youngest Oscar nominee ever as best director for his vivid depiction of life in a poor, black Los Angeles neighborhood in “Boyz N the Hood,” which he also wrote.

“Four Brothers” stars Mark Wahlberg as the volatile eldest brother of a mixed-race foursome that includes Tyrese Gibson, Garrett Hedlund and Andre Benjamin, better known as Andre 3000 of the hip-hop hitmakers OutKast.

The film opens across the United States Friday.

Four troubled boys, two white and two black adoptive brothers raised by a sainted, social-activist mother, are reunited as adults at her funeral and set out to avenge her politically inspired murder.

The trail to the villain is heavily littered with car wrecks and point-blank executions in the mean streets of a gun-crazed Detroit, but the movie is laced with humor, fueled by the driving beat of Motown soul music and elevated by a cast that clicks.

Briton Chiwetel Ejiofor, star of “Dirty Pretty Things,” is striking as a brutal thug who humiliates underlings, and Colombian actress Sofia Vergara injects some comedy and a passionate woman’s touch, including a love scene on top of a rumbling washing machine.

The ensemble and director Singleton make the most of a ragged script that fails to explain some crucial plot elements and often strains credulity.

Despite the racial bonding and a nod to the benefits of labor organizing, Singleton acknowledged this was primarily a ”popcorn” movie, the type of mass-appeal project that helps support his more serious efforts.

Taste for popcornSingleton said he had to work at breaking from the stereotype his early success brought him as a young, black filmmaker.

“Everyone was looking at me as a serious director,” he said about reaction to ’Boyz.’ “I wanted to be taken as a serious director. But I got it at a young age, at 22. That’s why I started doing some popcorn movies.”

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He wrote, produced and directed the popular “Shaft,” in 2000, and made a big commercial success with the high-speed action flick, “2 Fast 2 Furious” in 2003.

“The movies are fulfilling in different ways,” he said. “It was so hard to get the real topical movies made. So I said, ’I can make one of these.’ I’m talking about doing a popcorn film.”

“There was a time in which all I wanted to do was make the statement. I made so many powerful statements that I wasn’t making any money. Then there were times when it was, ’I got to make some money, so I can make a statement.’

“It’s the yin and the yang. You can’t have one without the other.”

Singleton said he used some of his “popcorn” money to make another statement by producing “Hustle & Flow,” which won acclaim at the Sundance Festival and in a short time this summer has grossed more than five times its $2.8 million budget.

“Look what happened with ’Hustle & Flow,’ he said of the film directed and written by Craig Brewer about a pimp who tries to lift himself from squalor by making his way as a rapper. “It was a great script by a young unaccomplished director.

“He came to Hollywood and nobody wanted to do the movie. I took the script around. Still nobody wanted to do it. I stepped up and I paid for it and we started to shoot it. And then everybody wanted to get a piece of it.

“I’m going to continue to do it,” he said about mixing his serious and commercial sides. “Over and over and over again.”