oooh, my first valiant attempt at a nodeshell rescue...

"You got to get that `We are the world' crap outta your head, 'cuz it ain't gonna happen on this campus."

John Singleton had already helmed one classic and one misfire when he unleashed this all-encompassing portrait of college life. Racism, sexism, rape, lesbianism, xenophobia -- no stone is left unturned. Unfortunately, save for a select few performances and a handful of powerful scenes, the movie ultimately underwhelms, keeping an okay movie from being a masterpiece.

Oh, there's good to be found here. Laurence Fisburne is solid as the West Indian polisci professor Mr. Phipps, who delivers truism after truism to his pupils about the real world. Ice Cube as the super-duper senior Fudge, provides some much-needed insight, esp. in a scene where he posits an intriguing, awkward, hypothetical scenario to his young protègé. And Michael Rapaport, in the most tragic role of the film, effectively portrays the naiveté of an isolated bumpkin in a strange, new place; get past the shock of the very Jewish Rapaport as a neo-nazi to see a very timid, confused lad yearning to fit in.

All of that is nearly outweighed by the approach Singleton takes with the material, painting ev'rything in narrow strokes. All these creatures onscreen never rise above being stereotypes, which, in a movie that begs us to question the knowledge, is odd. All the black characters are angry and perpetual victims of the system; the white characters are distrustful antagonists. And then there's the treatment of the hitler youth. These are strictly one-dimensional, boozing fuckwits, polar opposites of the type of skinhead that Edward Norton brilliantly essayed in American History X. They don't project fear, but laughter, esp. when they feebly attempt to turn a comrade's death into an act of martyrdom.

Being a multi-racial student at a large, highly diverse public university, and seeing the way many socal constructs are negotiated on a daily basis, I felt compelled to revisit this film with fresher eyes and ears than before. While the subject is worthwhile, esp. in these post-9.11 days, the thematic approach is heavy-handed. Having known, or interfaced with, the outcasts, jocks, frat boys, and other assorted folk that populate the campus landscape, what I saw in the movie seemed even more hollow than before.

If ever the reach and ambition of an artist outweighed their skill, this would be it.

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