Everyday Black Man
Henry Brown, Omari Hardwick
2 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
The smug thing to say about "Everyday Black Man" would be I know what it's like to be a black man everyday and this ain't it. The plot has all the subtlety of Charlie Sheen at a sorority club meeting and the cinematography has the same low budget look found in BET and Lifetime movies.
So why should you watch "Everyday Black Man?" Two reasons: the down-to-earth charm of Henry Brown and the boil-to-burn villainy of Omari Hardwick.
"Everyday Black Man" follows the selfless existence of Moses Stanton (Henry Brown, and yes, his character's first name serves as a metaphor for his personality). Moses, a thoughtful, easy going former tough guy, runs a small grocery store in Oakland.
Moses is assisted by Sonny (Corey Jackson), a likeable, mentally challenged man-child. Clair (tepid Tessa Thompson), a bright young woman with a promising future as a teacher, is a frequent visitor to the store. She has no idea that Moses, who treats her like her father, really is her father.
The store is in financial trouble (mainly because Moses never seems to charge anybody for groceries). Enter Malik (Omari Hardwick), a young Muslim preacher who sells pies. Malik says he has a business plan that will benefit both of them. If he and Moses become partners and Moses allows Malik to sell his pies in the store, he'll dump $60,000 into the business.
Moses: Why me?
Malik: Allah told me so. He don't make mistakes.
It quickly becomes apparent that Malik is pie-eyed over Claire, which doesn't sit well with Moses. Worse, as Malik begins to exert more control over business decisions, Moses comes to realize his new partner has lied to him. ("I see a young man movin' too fast, tryin' to get over, that's what I see.") Moses winds up in a struggle to save his daughter, his store and his community.
On the plus side, the limited budget allows the small cast to function as if they're acting in a play, which would have been great if the characters weren't sketches. Unfortunately, with the exception of Brown and Hardwick, it's the minor actors and their characters, such as drug kingpin D'arcy (corpulent Ed Gilles III) and wisdom spouting grandma Mary (reverent Marjorie Shears), that rise above director/writer Carmen Madden's heavy-handed inner city moralizing. Unfortunately, the characters played by the female leads (Thompson's Claire and C. Kelly Wright's Gloria) are ones most in need of fleshing out.
There are a few glaring moments in "Everyday Black Man" that defy logic - such as having a mentally challenged kid pick up on Malik's ulterior motive before anyone else, or having Claire wind up in a lip lock with Malik a scant few minutes after she's buried her beloved grandmother. (He's a charmer, but picking up a girl at a funeral? Yuk.)
The script hits a factorial sour note when grandma goes Code Blue and no one, not a doctor, not a nurse, not even a candy striper comes in to try and revive her. I don't care if grandma was staying at the Acme Animal Hospital, someone would have come in yelling "Clear!" and hit her with the paddles.
Also, a potentially tension-filled scene with Sonny, who ventures out into the mean streets at night unprotected after being goaded by Malik and Yusef, is painstakingly set up but never shown. The next time we see Sonny he's prone in the hospital with a bullet in him. It would have added to the film's dramatic impact if the audience was allowed to see how Sonny wound up a near corpse, especially after having to sit through several cliché riddled minutes of Malik and Yusef goading him.
As for the way Muslims are painted, well, let's just say George Bush and Sarah Palin would be proud.
Hardwick, who excelled as a gang leader in criminal "Line Watch" (see my March 27, 2009 review) commands the screen with the type of slippery charm that the snake in the Garden of Eden would envy. In a way that's what he is - on the surface he's sweet-talking, righteous, interested in rebuilding the neighborhood. Underneath he's a brooding brute with a get rich, screw you agenda, and Harwick plays Malik's two-faced personality to the hilt.
Brown has the unenviable task of making a very hackneyed character (the kind-hearted, proud, smart, community minded saint) believable. He goes steely-eyed when he has to and has the believable countenance of, well, an everyday man. Props should also go to Corey Jackson, who plays Moses' mentally challenged gofer Sonny without turning him into a laughingstock.
The rest of the cast is made up of minor league actors playing caricatures. Whoever told Mo McRae (Malik's right hand man Yusef) that acting tough consists of cussing and balancing a toothpick between your teeth should have been poked by said toothpick. No mo' McRae, please.
C. Kelly Wright (Gloria) is little more than window dressing as Moses' romantic foil (ever hero needs one). Too bad she has all the attraction of Olive Oyl. Lisa Bonet look-alike Tessa Thompson has her character's naiveté down pat, which may be what makes her performance so bland and vacant.
Director Carmen Madden does a good job of capturing effective close ups of Brown's telling facial expressions. But she should have let someone else write the script. Trite lines like "I'm gonna fix things!" "I will make you proud" and "I own you. I own every thing in this motherf***ker" aren't very riveting, although Madden did come up with an observation spoke by Yusef that effectively sums up his and Malik's personalities: "Being a Muslim is in your heart. Making money is in our hearts."
As great character actors like William Smith, Morgan Woodward, Walter Brennan and now Henry Brown and Omari Hardwick prove, sometimes it's the actors, not the script that can make or break a film.