Four Brothers
dir. Singleton
Opens Fri Aug 12
Various Theaters

In the decade and change since his debut with Boyz 'n the Hood, director John Singleton has garnered a rep as a filmmaker whose ambition has often frustratingly overstepped his gifts. 2003's shamelessly dopey 2 Fast 2 Furious, however, suggested that Singleton may have finally found his calling as a maker of self-aware action pictures. Four Brothers, the director's vigilante-minded, ridiculously nasty follow-up, lays on the thug-life testosterone with a trowel: Misogynistic, homophobic, and brutal as all get out, it suggests a marathon Grand Theft Auto session, without the redeeming hand-eye coordination development. Pleasures don't come much more guilty.

Loosely retrofitting the old John Wayne oater The Sons of Katie Elder to modern-day Detroit, the plot follows a quartet of ne'er-do-wells (led by a pumped, inked, and pomaded within an inch of his life Mark Wahlberg) who stomp back to their old neighborhood after their adoptive mother meets an untimely end. Unable to find satisfaction from the local cops (including Hustle & Flow's Terrence Howard), they proceed to dish out a mighty helping of frontier-style justice.

Whatever his faults, Singleton has always had a touch with actors, and here he draws relaxed performances from André 3000, Tyrese Gibson, and especially Chiwetel Ejiofor, as a cartoonishly evil mastermind. On the tech side, David Arnold's score lays gloriously heavy on the wa-wa pedal, and the photography and production design favorably recall the glory days of the '70s exploitation film, when folks like Roy Scheider and Jim Brown busted up Caddys and Dusters by the score. If, as the occasional brief moment suggests, this is all a straight-faced parody of such trash classics as Slaughter's Big Rip-Off and Truck Turner, Singleton may have bigger talents than anyone has ever suspected. If he's serious, however, lord help us. ■