Dir: John Singleton. US.2005. 109mins.

Set against a vastconspiratorial backdrop in which daylight shootouts take place with noimpunity, director John Singleton's Four Brothers is a formulaic andover-the-top crime drama that offers forth a guileless daisy chain of violentincidents with no convincing explication of place or consequence. Despite itsintriguing multi-cultural casting, it's a dramatic misfire.

Box office prospects for thefilm still should be decent Stateside, where it opens on Aug 12 and wherethree-quarters of its lead cast have a clannish if somewhat limited fan base.

Internationally, however,there's no breakout superstar to anchor the picture, and neither thefilm-making nor the narrative holds enough in the way of innate appeal oruniqueness to forestall the film from taking its place on the video shelf as yetanother anonymous urban crime drama.

Evelyn Mercer (FionnulaFlanagan) is a good works fixture in mixed-race, working poor Detroit. But whenshe's gunned down in a convenience store robbery, the four disparate orphansshe raised as her own sons return home to bury her and get to the bottom of herperhaps not-so-random killing.

Bobby (Mark Wahlberg) andAngel (Tyrese Gibson) are the two wilder brothers, still on the foul side ofthe law. Jeremiah (Andre Benjamin) has stayed in the Motor City and made good;he's a husband, father and would-be entrepreneur. Baby brother Jack (GarrettHedland), meanwhile, is a reticent singer-songwriter, possibly gay if we're tobelieve Bobby's coded taunts.

The police officers on thecase (Terrence Howard and Josh Charles) try to warn Bobby and company not toget involved, but of course they do anyway. Soon they've traced a line ofcomplicity from a crooked city councilman (Barry Shabaka Henley) all the wayback to crime boss Victor Sweet (Dirty Pretty Things' Chiwetel Ejiofor).

After blazing onto the scenewith 1991's Boyz N The Hood, Singleton has proved a confoundingfilm-maker. He clearly fancies Four Brothers as a pained, modernistsoliloquy of urban heartache and corruption (Marvin Gaye and the Temptationseach rate four songs apiece on the soundtrack, including the elegiac InnerCity Blues), a sort of cross between 8 Mile, Training Day andNew Jack City.

But David Elliot and PaulLovett's script is a weak mish-mash of cockamamie genre formula, and theviolent, artless rendering by Singleton little better. The vast cover-upsurrounding Evelyn's murder is intuited, and the "facts" follow. Nothing isdeduced or figured out, though; each body or victim is merely the next puzzlepiece.

Four Brothers also plays fast and loose with racial politics, butin a manner that you always know what's coming before it happens. It honestlyseems, as conceived, like little more than a reason to commingle black andwhite in a crass attempt at crossover commercial value.

That said, there's a rawchemistry to the four co-leads, and some intriguingly at odds character detailsthat would have made for richer drama in a more restrained, thoughtful film.Such elements, however, are given no time to develop in an interesting fashionin the brawny, act-first world of Four Brothers.

Acting neophyte Benjamin -half of the rap duo Outkast, and the best thing about the Get Shortysequel Be Cool - shows charisma and a sort of feral grace; he's a bornperformer who could segue easily into a lucrative film career in both comedyand drama. Equally fascinating is an against-grain Chiwetel Ejiofor,mesmerising and menacing in a too-small role.

Production companies
Paramount Pictures
Di Bonaventura Pictures

US distribution
Paramount Pictures

International distribution

Executive producers
Ric Kidney
Erik Howsam

Lorenzo di Bonaventura

David Elliot
Paul Lovett

Peter Menzies Jr

Production design
Keith Brian Burns

Bruce Cannon
Billy Fox

David Arnold

Main cast
Mark Wahlberg
Tyrese Gibson
Andre Benjamin
Garrett Hedlund
Terrence Howard
Josh Charles
Chiwetel Ejiofor
Sofia Vergara
Fionnula Flanagan
Kenneth Welsh
Barry Shabaka Henley