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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: O

Starring: Josh Hartnett, Mekhi Phifer
Director: Tim Blake Nelson
Rated: R
RunTime: 95 Minutes
Release Date: August 2001
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Martin Sheen, Rain Phoenix, Julia Stiles, Elden Henson

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Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

Pretty boy Josh Hartnett, last seen unimpressively in PEARL HARBOR, delivers an even more underwhelming performance in Tim Blake Nelson's O. First-time screenwriter Brad Kaaya's script for O is very loosely based on Shakespeare's Othello. Set to a hip-hop beat and cast with a bunch of young actors too old to be in high school, the story takes place on and off the basketball court as a high school team tries to win the state championship.

Mekhi Phifer (I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER) plays the team's star, Odin James, and Hartnett is the team's very jealous, utility player, Hugo Goulding. As soon as Odin wins the MVP award from Coach Duke Goulding (Martin Sheen), Hugo's dad, Hugo starts plotting to take Odin down. To fill out the teen-friendly cast, Julia Stiles (10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU), who seems to specialize in loose Shakespeare adaptations, plays Odin's girlfriend, Desi Brable.

Nelson has all of his actors speaking in whispers. This risky technique can work, as it did spectacularly in THE DEEP END, but with actors more interested in posing than working, the effect is sleep inducing. Sheen, to his credit, does chew up the scenery in a hopeless attempt to wake up the sleepy production.

The very preppy, southern school -- both sexes are required to wear blazers and ties -- has only one black, Odin, a kid of fairly average height who appears NBA bound. Having one lone black allows the screenwriter to throw in a bunch of clichéd racial lines. ("White girls are snakes," Hugo warns Odin about Desi. And later, Odin reminds everyone, "My mom ain't no crack head.")

Although it contains one of the most unconvincingly staged murders in recent memory, the last act does breathe some needed life into an otherwise s-l-o-w movie.

Shakespeare should sue.

O runs 1:35. It is rated R for violence, a scene of strong sexuality, language and drug use and would be acceptable for most teenagers.

Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes

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