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SOMETHING NEW
U.S. Release Date: February 3, 2006
Distributor: Focus Features
Producer: Stephanie Allain
Cast: Sanaa Lathan, Simon Baker, Mike Epps, Taraji P. Henson
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (sexual references)

What Makes a White Man Jump
by Scott Holleran

The interracial romantic comedy, Something New, is like a cocktail party with several juicy moments. Taking on an affair between a black woman and a white man, director Sanaa Hamri and writer Kriss Truner have carefully navigated the minefield of black middle class guilt, and that they make it through alive is some sort of miracle.

This picture need not be oversold; it's often oversimplified, with a politically correct streak and gaping holes that keep it from achieving greatness. But it's fun, sexy and, when it's working, thoughtful. Starting with career woman Kenya (Sanaa Lathan), an attractive, intelligent L.A. lady who wears her hair in a weave, Something New gives us something new—and hard to come by on today's movie screens—a realistic portrayal of a productive black woman.

Kenya, named after the African country, pushes herself in her work, makes time for her friends, and she certainly has the bod to match the brains. But when a co-worker sets her up on a blind date with Brian (Simon Baker), who turns out to be white, her world is rocked.

Not at first, which is part of what makes this fish-out-of-water tale work. It's relatively predictable, yet it's framed with enough realism to pull it off, containing a romantic spirit in a self-confident script. It helps that Baker, proving why Australians get the most manly roles, takes his hunk of blond beefcake and molds the character into flesh and blood.

Tooling around in a jalopy with his golden retriever and working Kenya like a pro, muscular landscaper Brian, is way too good to be true and Something New is at times a fully exaggerated female fantasy, like a black romance novel with a hired hand white man filling in for the white woman and her exotic black stud.

But, with a capable cast and the movie's inevitable but good confrontation over racial sensitivities in a grocery store, Something New lets the audience ask, "why not?" Kenya, sought after with such sincerity and coming up with no good reason not to take the plunge, has her way with Whitey, who falls hard for hot chocolate, and the deal is sealed. They sizzle in slow, erotic love scenes.

That is, until a successful black man (Blair Underwood) comes along, brought in by Kenya's sleazy brother. Kenya's black friends and family, with the exception of her best girlfriend (Wendy Raquel Robinson) and her dad (Earl Billings), never really accept Brian, and, at parties and nights out, he is treated like dirt. Perfectly cast Alfre Woodard finally gets to play the witch as Kenya's snobby mother.

In fact, becoming like her mother—ivory tower upturned nose and all—is exactly what fires Kenya up to blow past the dating game on all cylinders and get down to business, which is fun to watch as the characters clash and wind up in a sea of formal attire, with ballroom dancing and Brian as a white male Cinderella in an affirmation of passion as the prerequisite for romantic love.

Where it's going is often obvious and the movie depends heavily on Kenya, whose gained value from Brian is lopsided compared to what's in it for him, and the load is too much for Lathan to carry. The script is long, underdeveloped and it doesn't squarely state that one's identity is based on individuality, not on race, but, given the challenging subject matter—racism is an example of collectivism that remains prevalent—Something New is something to see.


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