There's not really anything fresh about the romantic dramedy "Something New." Although its producer, Stephanie Allain ("Hustle & Flow"), characterizes it as "the first interracial love story of the 21st century with a black woman and a white man," and as forgettable as the 2005 Bernie Mac-Ashton Kutcher mash-up "Guess Who" was, the interracial romance is no longer much of a novelty.
"Something New" can be aptly reduced to "Guess Who's Landscaping a Little More Than the Backyard" with its story of a proud African American professional woman (Sanaa Lathan), her search for an IBM (ideal black man) and the white landscape architect (Simon Baker) who artfully woos her. A first feature from Sanaa Hamri, who has directed music videos and concert footage for Prince and Mariah Carey, it's superficial and formulaic but pleasant enough to entertain and qualifies as intelligent and sophisticated by the current standard of Hollywood comedy.
Lathan stars as Kenya McQueen, a tightly wound senior manager at a Westwood accounting firm. She's successful and from a good family — her father (Earl Billings) is a doctor, her brother Nelson (Donald Faison) is a lawyer, and her mother (Alfre Woodard) is a shopper supreme. Kenya works hard, hangs out with a trio of equally thriving girlfriends (Wendy Raquel Robinson, Golden Brooks, Taraji P. Henson) and has just bought a nice home in View Park with a grotty backyard.
Dismayed at being part of the 42.4% of black women who have never married, Kenya grudgingly accepts a blind date. When Brian turns up at Starbucks, Kenya is visibly uncomfortable and politely rejects him. Though his surfer good looks make him stand out like a lone marshmallow in a half-gallon of rocky road ice cream, it's only Kenya's reaction that draws any real attention to them. Circumstances conspire to have Brian do a remarkable renovation of Kenya's untended backyard, allowing him the opening to loosen her up considerably. Think "Extreme Makeover: Romance Edition."
The metaphors and innuendos fly fast and furiously, if heavy-handedly, with Brian modestly proclaiming that what he does is "take hard earth and make things bloom." Despite her resistance, Kenya is soon letting her hair down and adding color to her life by splashing paint on her blandly beige walls.
Even as happiness threatens to consume them, Kenya and Brian hit a bump in their relationship and a convenient option arrives. Nelson introduces her to his mentor, corporate legal eagle Mark Harper (Blair Underwood), who's relocating from Phoenix and practically has "IBM" stamped on him.
As is too often true of most romantic-movie rivals, Mark is no real competition. He may fit Kenya's image of the perfect guy, but he's also chauvinistic and deadly dull, hardly a match for Brian's skill at cultivating her heart. Once Kenya gets past her biases, there's no real obstacle to a happy ending.
The movie nicely captures the area around Baldwin Hills, is crisply written by Kriss Turner and portrays the upper-middle class black community seldom seen in mainstream TV and film. However, the characterizations, even the leads, rarely rise above archetypes. The film's lack of depth as it oversimplifies the complexities of racism keep it from being anything other than a lightweight date movie.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual referencesCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times