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DVD Review: Everyday Black Man

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Everyday Black Man opens with an atmospheric montage of Oakland, instantly setting the mood the film seeks to evoke, one of urban despair that chokes out the efforts of individuals to make a difference in the face of institutional racism and parasitic criminals. It’s an effective sequence.

Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there.

Moses Stanton (Henry Brown of Lethal Weapon), operates a small, unprofitable grocery store in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood that has, despite its problems, been free of drug dealers since Moses opened for business. How has Moses managed to chase the pushers from their corners? We’re never told, and it seems particularly puzzling given his ineffective handling of them later on. We are told how he pays his lone employee: room and board. He can’t swing an actual paycheck.

Anyway, Moses means well, frequently giving away groceries to impoverished customers and wanting to expand his business to better serve his community, but with no profit and no collateral, he just can’t secure a loan. His bank’s loan officer seems to have once been employed by the Bailey Savings and Loan, wishing he could just give Moses the money he needs and dispensing business advice in a gee-I’d-like-to-do-more kind of way. He’s the sort of loan officer one meets in movies and only in movies.

One piece of advice he gives Moses: seek a partner in the community, like the new principal at the local school. He has heard so much about her. Gloria something.

Hey, do you suppose we’ll later meet a principal by the name of Gloria? Do you sense you’ve been clubbed upside the head with the exposition stick? Well wait; there’s more.

Upon leaving the bank, Moses stares forlornly at an old photograph of a woman and a little girl and promises to “make you proud.”

So Moses is a soft-hearted pushover who has no patience for criminals, has lost a wife and daughter under mysterious circumstances, and is haunted by remorse. There’s a nice new principal in town by the name of Gloria, and Moses has a single employee to whom he gives room and board. And that’s all covered in the first few minutes of the picture.

It’s not exactly subtle, but it shifts the melodrama into high gear when we’re introduced to the supporting cast. Claire (Tessa Thompson, of Veronica Mars) toils at the local grade school as a teacher’s assistant, but plugs away at college and hopes one day to work for her new principal, Gloria Johnson (hey, remember her?). Claire’s grandmother is in the hospital with heart problems, which Moses is alarmed to hear. He always gives the woman free groceries, and he continues that tradition with Claire.

Hey, you don’t suppose there is some connection between Claire and her grandmother and Moses’ lost wife and daughter, do you?

Next up is Corey Jackson as Sonny, Moses’ employee. He sweeps up and takes out the garbage and has some vague, undefined mental handicap and is played with a sensitivity and understatement that makes Sean Penn’s I am Sam look positively nuanced.

And finally, we meet Malik (Omari Hardwick of Kick-Ass). He is running the local mosque and expanding it to a school and community center. Somehow he also finds time to bake pies and wants to start a bakery. He’s young and smart and civic-minded and handsome and he bakes and… hey, he does he sound too good to be true to you?

Of course he does, which is why you’ll be laughing at the utter implausibility of Moses ignoring all of his suspicions and accepting a $60,000 check from Malik in return for taking him on as a partner. In his failing grocery.

Turns out Malik has a sinister plot to use his pies as a cover for distributing drugs. Seems the most efficient way for him to deal in this neighborhood is for him to weasel his way into Moses’ life – which takes no small amount of effort – and then maintain his place there using snarled threats and occasional violence.

Why wouldn’t Malik just start his own front-business rather than spend so much time and money cajoling Moses only to then have an uncooperative partner on his hands? And why wouldn’t Moses, upon learning he had been deceived, just deal with Malik as he had all of the other dealers in his neighborhood? And how often do people conveniently resist passing away just long enough to pour out their hearts in tearful death scenes?

Well it all happens in this movie, and some of it more than once.

I’m not opposed to melodrama. In fact, I am a fan. But this strange synthesis of Charles Dickens and New Jack City (A Tale of Two Jack Cities?) never quite works.

The cast is all professional and competent, even good at times, and the camera work isn’t unimpressive, with fluid and unobtrusive movements and at times striking compositions. On the whole, it is a promising debut for producer-writer-director Carmen Madden and cinematographer Phillip Briggs. A promising debut, just not an entertaining one.

DVD extras include deleted scenes and run-of-the-mill puff piece that’s presented as a documentary. If you’re intrigued by the movie, I suggest a rental rather than a purchase.

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