Wednesday May 14, 1997
By burlesquing rap culture almost to the point of absurdity, the talented young writer-director-actor Rusty Cundieff made the mockumentary "Fear of a Black Hat" into one of the funnier movies of recent years. Cundieff again proves himself adept with the new romantic comedy "Sprung," which is genre-busting without being a pretentious pain. While it can be viewed on one level as a straight, bawdy reading on the current condition of love, the new film sends up both the extremes of much African American comedy and the self-conscious, cloying qualities of over-earnest film romance in general. Imagine "Four Weddings and a Funeral" meets "Booty Call."
Like "Four Weddings," Cundieff's "Sprung"--a term referring to the condition whereby one's perfectly normal self-absorption has been undone by love--opens with Montel (Cundieff) arriving late for a wedding. We assume it's his, but it doesn't matter. From this point, we flash back to the auguries of tortured romance between Montel and Brandy (Tisha Campbell), an affair destined to be blighted by all the usual afflictions of '90s love--money, sexism, perilous assumptions--but mostly by the misguided attempts at matchmaking/breaking by their friends Clyde (Joe Torry) and Adina (Paula Jai Parker).
Clyde is an iron-pumping, gold-lame-wearing, burger-joint-managing man on the prowl, whose tools of courtship include a borrowed Porsche and a purloined ATM receipt. At a sorority party, he and Montel meet Brandy and Adina. Adina is the queen of the gold diggers, whose assessment of available men begins at their wallets: Through her mind's eye we see the kind of instantaneous computer readouts used in films like "The Hunt for Red October" but that for Adina provide appraisals of phony Rolexes and cheap suits. The fantasy visuals work both ways: When Montel and Clyde first arrive, they visualize Brandy in a baby-doll nightie and Adina decked out as a dominatrix.
Clyde's counterfeit wealth fools Adina; they go to bed and engage in what might be called Extreme Sex. When she finds out she's been played, her revenge is ugly--and funny. Montel and Brandy, meanwhile, develop a more meaningful relationship, which upsets Clyde and Adina--because it means they'll have to see more of each other.
En route to real love and hot sex, there's a lot of playful, stylized mischief executed by Cundieff--Adina looks in the mirror and sees a lollipop labeled "sucker"; when she belts Clyde, little birds circle his head. Cundieff is casting his characters as cartoonish, if not outright cartoons, but his willingness to be this goofy is refreshing.
Montel's love talk can be cloying--Cundieff himself is not quite as convincing as his co-stars--and the structure of "Sprung" is a bit stilted: This kind of four-handed game of hot pursuit has been done to death. But it's a genuinely romantic and genuinely funny film. Cundieff's story is dedicated to the proposition that real love exists--and is available, if you're honest enough. The movie is honest, too, about the silly things people often do for love.
Sprung, 1997. R for some strong sexuality and language. A Darin Scott Production in association with Trimark Productions, released by Trimark Pictures. Producer Darin Scott. Director Rusty Cundieff. Screenplay Rusty Cundieff and Darin Scott. Cinematographer Joao Fernandes. Editor Lisa Bromwell. Production designer Terrence Foster. Costumes Tracey White. Music Stanley Clarke. Music coordinator Peter A. Block. Art coordinator Jim Moores. Set decorator Melanie Paizis. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. Brandy as Tisha Campbell. Montel as Rusty Cundieff. Adina as Paula Jai Parker. Clyde as Joe Torry. Veronica as Jennifer Lee.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times