(Air Date: Week Of 1/11/95)
Watching "Higher Learning" is like watching an old episode of "Dragnet". John Singleton's latest film even has the vigorous nodding thaProfessor Maurice Phipps is indicative of how writer-director Singleton telegraphs every single move long before he's going to make it. A student is sleeping during a political science lecture. Ever so slowly, his teacher takes the sandwich and fruit out of his lunch bag, walks across the hall, blows up the bag and pops it next to the kid's ear. When this technique is repeated over and over again in real time, you have one long, predictable movie. Moreover, "Higher Learning" appears to have more in common with 25-year-old movies like "Getting Straight" and "The Strawberry Statement" than it does with any real university campus circa 1995. The surprises here are some fresh performances by the young cast, especially those by Ice Cube, Regina King and newcomer Tyra Banks as three of the students. Omar Epps, only 21, is mostly effective as the central character Malik, although some of the more histrionic moments are still beyond his skills as an actor. But Michael Rapaport is your standard issue sniper-in-training, ditto his skinhead cohorts (with the exception of Cole Hauser as their chillingly soft-spoken leader). And all of the mostly white cops automatically go after the black students with clubs, reserving their compassion and deference for the white students.
With a preachy message like "Higher Learning" packs, one preview audience saved their most energetic crowd response for a few rather chaste lesbian kisses. Sex may be the hook for most college flicks, but Singleton clearly deserves some credit for trying to make a more serious statement about the multiracial campus environment. Sadly, when I tried to think of a single great movie about race relations in a college setting, I could only recall a long string of farces. Drop me a line at PO Box 59063, San Francisco CA 94159 or email me if your memory is better than mine.
Copyright 1995 Monica Sullivan
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