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Nina Takes a Lover

Love Jones
Michael P. Weinstein

She Is a Camera: Nia Long contemplates a shot in director/writer Theodore Witcher's romantic comedy.

Vintage jazz and caressing images balance a very predictable script in 'Love Jones'

By Richard von Busack

THE QUIET, lovely titles--a selection of handsome black-and-white stills that melt into one another--are an immediate clue that Love Jones is a cut above the usual. It's also a relief to realize the movie is about black life without the violence. (An African American couple quarrels at a party. He accompanies her to wait for a cab because he doesn't want her out on the street alone. They aren't accosted. The cab comes. This is as close to trouble as Love Jones gets.)

To set the proper mood, director/writer Theodore Witcher cleverly uses caressing images and music, especially old jazz records of Bird and Coltrane (and I mean records; the hero loves vinyl). Director of photography Ernest Holzman makes an outstanding feature-film debut, capturing the beauty of Chicago. One shot of Buckingham Fountain in a thick fog is more romantic than any amount of dialogue. Unfortunately, the writing is as obvious as its visuals are beautiful. It doesn't take long to realize that Darius (Larenz Tate), who has a doggy streak, will be taught to discard his studly pose and that Nina (Nia Long) will learn to overcome her doubts about men.

The couple-to-be meets at a nightclub poetry slam. He dedicates a poem to her. "You're the shit, girl," he tells her from the stage, offering to shower her with "metaphoric jism." He's rather surprised when Nina isn't delighted and reminds him that there are other things beside sex. "What's wrong with sssssssex?" Darius hisses lounge-lizardly. But of course his stalkerlike persistence pays off. Nina falls for him after a night of sex and a cheese omelet he cooks for her, but then petty jealousy and unwillingness to commit delay the clinch.

Love Jones has class, but once the romance is set up, the movie's gentle pace slows to a crawl. The misunderstandings seem forced and the obstacles obviously manmade. By the time there's a race to the train station to head off a departing lover, Witcher has gone past nostalgia to a sort of premature senility. One way to keep the audience from restlessness in these ensemble comedies to make the rest of the ensemble compelling. The two most interesting actors in Love Jones, Lisa Nicole Carter and Isiah Washington, have only a few scenes to show their talents. And the Kramer character, Hollywood (Bill Bellamy), wasn't offbeat or funny enough to hold up his end of the film. A really good Kramer is essential to successful ensemble comedy. If Witcher learns to give his work some form and tension, he'll have a whole subgenre--African American romantic comedy--almost to himself.


Love Jones (R; 105 min.), directed and written by Theodore Witched, photographed by Ernest Holzman and starring Larenz Tate and Nia Long.

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From the March 20-26, 1997 issue of Metro

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