A Brother's Kiss

on April 25, 1997 by Alex Albanese
For his first feature, playwright Seth Zvi Rosenfeld has chosen to expand a one-act play he wrote and directed in 1989. The best parts of "A Brother's Kiss" are firmly grounded in a filmic tradition that stretches from "Dead End" to "Boyz in the Hood"; it's a gritty, no- holds-barred look at the lives of underclass urban youth that is gripping, moving, and dead-on accurate in its details.
Set in the East Harlem of the late '70s, the first half of the film follows the fatherless Lex ("Kids'" Justin Pierce) and his kid brother Mick (Nick Chinlund) through the lures and snares of life in a rough neighborhood. Everything about these sequences--scripting, acting, directing, production design--is superb. There is convincing horror lurking in Central Park and real, giddy joy in a ritual Friday night Scrabble game with dressed-up, boozed-up Mom (Cathy Moriarty).
When the film fast-forwards 15 years, some of that tightness begins to unravel. Mick is now a cop, and Lex is a never-was pro basketball player getting in over hishead with a wife and baby. Though there are still some fine performances and truthfully observed moments, the film as a whole ratchets down a few notches. The plot suffers from too many incidents of narrative convenience, poorly motivated action, and occasional annoying unbelievability. Lex's downward spiral is persuasively portrayed, but the reasons given for his fall, though plausible, are never presented as sufficiently overwhelming.
Some of the problems could lie in the story's genesis as a one- act; it seems, after the skill and talent he displayed in the film's first half, that Rosenfeld was easier on himself than he should have been. That is unfortunate, because this good movie could have been a great one. Starring Justin Pierce, Nick Chinlund, Michael Raynor, Cathy Moriarty, Rosie Perez, Marisa Tomei and John Leguizamo. Directed and written by Seth Zvi Rosenfeld. Produced by Bob Potter and E. Bennet Walsh. A First Look release. Drama. Rated R for strong sexuality, pervasive strong language, drug use and violence. Running time: 92 min
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