Is it just me, or is "Jason's Lyric" being misrepresented in its ads? I went in expecting a nice sappy romantic love story. I came out having witnessed yet another angry "Boyz N the Hood" knockoff, albeit in a small-town Texas setting.
Worse, however, the movie's "romantic" elements are so ridiculous that I wondered in places if I was watching a "Hot Shots!" or "Naked Gun" spoof. And believe it or not, that old psychologically damaging chestnut — the Vietnam War — is dragged out as the real villain of the piece.
"Jason's Lyric" is the story of Jason Alexander (Allen Payne), who is haunted by nightmares of his involvement in the death of his father, Maddog (Forest Whitaker).
Anyway, Maddog was "changed" by the war, we are told. He lost his leg, but the reference is to his personality changes, of course. Unfortunately, we see him only as an abusive alcoholic who is shot to death while beating Jason's mother.
Jason was 11 when his father died, and his younger brother Joshua was just 8. And one of the movie's primary conceits is to tease us with flashbacks that never quite reveal which boy pulled the trigger that fateful night . . . though it's not hard to figure out after the first 10 minutes or so.
Jason is a conscientious sweet-natured young man. He works in an electronic appliance store in a small town outside Houston — but turns down a promotion and pay-raise because it means moving to the city and he doesn't feel he can leave his mother and brother. Mom is self-sufficient, but she is plagued by her second son. And Joshua is trouble, an ex-con involved with drugs, local gangsters and, eventually, a bank robbery. Naturally, Jason takes it upon himself to bail Joshua out at every turn.
Then Jason meets Lyric (Jada Pinkett), a striking beauty who works in a local hash house but whose brooding, angry demeanor keeps most men away. Jason quickly falls in love, however, manages to win her over and they start making plans for the future.
Needless to say, those plans will be interrupted — and film's climax becomes quite a bloodbath.
Payne and Pinkett make a charming couple, and the tentative early stages of Jason and Lyric's romance is the best thing in the film. (As Joshua, Bokeem Woodbine is also good, with an edgy, unnerving quality that makes you believe he could explode at any minute. And Suzzanne Douglas excels as their mother. Whitaker is powerful in his scenes but they are all too brief.)
Unfortunately, after Jason and Lyric fall in love, director Doug McHenry (a producer of "New Jack City" and "House Part 2") opts for uncomfortable sex scenes that seem like sendups of movie cliches. And when I say uncomfortable, I mean physically uncomfortable — rolling around in a grassy field (that magically turns into flowers), clearing everything off a countertop in the appliance store . . . the kind of movie moments that make the gymnastic sex scenes in "Color of Night" seem positively normal.
"Jason's Lyric" had some potential but McHenry and screenwriter Bobby Smith Jr. made the unfortunate choice of going for the cliche, so that it winds up both overcooked and half-baked. "Jason's Lyric" is rated R for violence, sex, nudity, profanity, vulgarity and drug abuse.