Help! I am lost in The Wood[s]!

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The Wood (1999)

Don’t let the title fool you, this film does not take place in the woods. In fact, due to the way that the characters become overt caricatures, I am surprised that this film is not titled, The Hood [although it is most likely the intended pun]. The Wood stands for the place where our three protagonists, Mike (Omar Epps), Roland (Taye Diggs), and Slim (Richard T. Jones) grew up, Inglewood, California.

The film begins on the day of Roland’s wedding, however Roland is missing! [It has the same premise and most likely inspired The Hangover]. Mike and Slim set out to find him, only to discover that Roland is drunk at his “first’s,” Tanya’s, house. In an attempt to bring Roland back to his wedding, the three men reminisce about their friendship.

While it is refreshing to watch a film with black men that focuses on friendship and does not involve the stereotypical aspects of violence, drugs, poverty, or incarceration, The Wood does come across as problematic. The transitions to flashbacks seemed to be created by someone who had just got Windows Movie Maker. Each flashback started the exact same way, a record was placed on a record player and a song that would fade to the background would play. This is revolutionary really, I mean without this constant clip, my naive self would have thought that the music was coming from my own head. Perhaps it is because this film was made in the 90’s (though it was the late 90’s), or maybe it is because they flashback to the 80’s, however at times it seemed as if the characters were superficial. This was through the constant [over]usage of terms such as: “Fool,” “N–,””Word,””Yo ass,” and “Yeah Man.” Speaking of terms, another one that was constantly used was “whatever,” yet for some reason this term had a different meaning than it does in real life. Characters would say these words and then suddenly disappear from the screen, as if it awoken some sort of teleport device.

The most repeated motif in the film involved bets made among the three friends. The first bet involved Mike grabbing this girl Alicia’s  (Malinda Williams) “booty” [which shockingly did not go well at the moment, but strangely captivated her for years to come]. Alicia tells her brother, Stacey (De’Aundre Bonds), who essentially beats Mike up [only for the weirdest friendship to blossom]. The next bet involved a school dance and securing the most numbers from girls. On the way to the dance, the boys stop off at a corner store to get some mints. While there, Stacey enters and attempts to rob the store, however, his partner finds Mike, Roland, and Slim hiding and brings them to his attention. Rather than completing the robbery, Stacey offers to give the boys a ride to the dance [because this is the Wood and not the Hood]. At the dance, Mike dances with Alicia, and lands a kiss as well as her number. After Alicia grants Mike a peck on the cheek, the camera switches to Stacey waiting in his car, watching the exchange, and nodding his head in a “That’s my boy!” fashion. But again, this is the Wood, things like this are normal.

Transport back to the wedding day: the three men are in the car and Roland vomits. Actually, vomit is not the correct term, Roland projectile vomits. Yet that does not seem accurate either, imagine a fountain spewing out water; that was Roland. Roland is sitting in the back seat, yet he somehow manages to soak Silm and Mike. I understand that the budget for this film may not have allowed for certain things, but the amount of water that Roland spews is probably where the budget went. Anyway, because of this, the three men return to Tanya’s house and ask to shower. I should  mention here that Tanya is one of those people who loves to watch the world burn; rather than allowing these puke drenched men to shower, Tanya has them rinse off in the backyard with a hose. Goofing around, Slim constantly sprays Roland with the hose [I mean did we not waste enough water in the previous scene? Does the crew just have a vendetta against water?].

While waiting for their suits to get cleaned, the three men head out for pizza and begin talking about the wedding briefly, only to move back to more important matters, a past bet. In a dragged out scene, the three men ask each other if they remember the bet (repeatedly) and respond with the fact that they remember [while I sat and questioned if I remembered what made me want to watch this film, yet unlike these men, my memory failed me]. It is here where the filmmakers remember that this pointless banter is supposed to be a transition.

Back in the 80’s, yet Silm, Mike, and Roland are now juniors. After the dance, Alicia and Mike dated for a while but chose to remain friends. All virgins, the boys decide to have a bet revolving around who would be the first to lose their virginity. Along the way, Mike and Alicia rekindle their flame and have sex yet Mike feels guilty using her as part of the bet. So he keeps it secret until someone else loses their virginity and wins the bet. After high school, it is said that Mike and Alicia went their separate ways because of college.

You must be wondering: Wait, I am confused, I thought the film was supposed to be about Roland returning to his bride. And to this I would say, “you are not alone dear reader, you are not alone.”

Back to the present. The three men return to the wedding and Roland marries his bride. Alicia is present at the wedding, her and Mike dance, and it is insinuated that feelings still exist. While dancing, Mike asks Alicia if it is cold in New York; now to us normal people, this would mean nothing, but in the Wood, Mike and Alicia will clearly live happily ever after. Mike makes a toast claiming that he was selfish for being upset that Roland would be moving away to start a new life, only to be selfish to continue talking about why he was upset that Roland would be moving away. Slim, Mike and Roland stand side-by-side and raise their glasses [while Roland’s wife is cropped and forgotten, making me question why they cast anyone to be his wife rather than allow her to remain as an off-screen character]. Mike raises his glass and toasts,”To the Wood,” [because you toast the place at weddings, not the newlyweds] and . . .

The scene fades in a micro-second and the credits begin rolling, perhaps it was a bet among the filmmakers to see if they could produce a movie exactly at a 1 hour and 42 minute time mark. Or maybe someone muttered “whatever” and teleported the entire crew somewhere else.

The flashbacks were perhaps the best part of the film, yet I do not see why a film could not be made consisting solely of them. There seemed to be a disconnect between the actual plot (Roland’s cold feet) and every single flashback because it revolved around Alicia and Mike. Here is a thought, why not have Mike and Alicia be the groom and bride and have Mike in Roland’s place? Or does this goes against the nonsensical logic of The Wood? Just as Stacey stops mid-robbery to give the three boys a dance, the filmmakers stop mid-production of giving us a coherent plot to give three actors roles with the assumption that they would secure value. Similar to a hangover, I found myself having a severe headache thinking about “The Would,” everything I would have done to change the film.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

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