Picks and Pans Review: Poetic Justice

updated 08/02/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/02/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Janet Jackson, Tupac Shakur

If what you really want to see is a simple love story, this is the picture for you. Simple it is, as in simple-minded. And that's a big disappointment, because Poetic Justice is the second film by director John Singleton, 25, who made a searing debut two years ago with Boyz N the Hood.

This one stars Jackson as a poetry-writing hairdresser named Justice, who lives in one of the better neighborhoods in Los Angeles's South Central section. (Late in the movie the character explains that she is named Justice because her mother became pregnant while in law school; if Mom had been in pharmacy school, would she have called her baby Lithium?) The movie's thin story has Jackson, after withdrawing into herself following the fatal shooting of a boyfriend, emerging from her shell and finding true love with a hardworking mailman (Shakur). Singleton, who wrote the embarrassingly vacuous script, clearly was trying to make a movie about the protective posturing that black men and women (for that matter, all men and women) hide behind these days and how hard it is for anyone to truly connect. Instead, seemingly so bedazzled at having landed Jackson for her first movie, he has settled for merely capturing the many moods of Janet, letting the camera dwell on her as she runs through her happy-face expression, her sad one, her wistful one and more, none of which add up to a coherent character.

In the singer turned actress category, Jackson may still prove to have more screen presence than either Whitney Houston or Madonna, but there is as yet little subtlety to her work. Shakur is a much stronger actor, ably showing the conflict of a man caught between who he is and who he thinks he is supposed to be.(R)

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