Where The Boyz Are, Inner-City Style

There are subtler, more polite movies around, but none made out of such a heart-stopping sense of urgency as John Singleton's Boyz N the Hood. Singleton, a 23-year-old writer/director who graduated a year ago from USC film school, grew up in gang-ridden south-central Los Angeles. His anxious report from the streets conveys in knowing, scary details the precariousness of getting through a day on his home turf, where police choppers circle overhead, corpses appear in the bushes, drugs take a daily toll and an insult can cost you your life.

It's an American coming-of-age story told from a new, black perspective: getting laid is an issue, as always, but staying alive is the first order of business. The boys in this neighborhood won't all make it: Doughboy (the rapper Ice Cube) is headed for a life of crime; his brother Ricky (Morris Chestnut) is on the brink of a football scholarship. Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.), smart, angry and conflicted, has the advantage of a fiercely protective father (Larry Fishburne), a loving but pontificating patriarch whose didacticism is, at times, inseparable from Singleton's. But this first film has more than good intentions: it's the work of a truly gifted filmmaker. The violence in "Boyz N the Hood" is neither gratuitous nor melodramatic; its aftermath is shattering. Singleton's powerhouse movie has the impact of a stun gun.