B.S. 101

John Singleton's college melodrama Higher Learning is a baffling misfire

Singleton treats all his characters as pawns, no more and no less, and he doesn't even play by the rules when he moves them clumsily around. He switches them from one side of the board to the other on a whim, invents nonexistent situations and then solves them with a wave of his hand, and at the end, topples the entire game to the floor in anger and kicks the pieces across the room. It's a disgraceful display of audience disrespect; basically, we're paying money to see a director screw around with human lives, and not very interestingly, either.

Singleton seems to be struggling with a potentially disastrous inferiority complex. Pegged by an unthinkingly racist critical establishment as a competitor of Spike Lee's, he now plays into that same establishment's hands; he's taken two of Lee's most controversial movies, School Daze and Do the Right Thing, and glommed them together, while failing to replicate the humor, heart, or passion of either. The film has the head-scratcher non-ending of the former movie and the explosive climax of the latter, but the two approaches don't mesh, and the result lacks the humor and verve and kinetic enthusiasm Lee's films display even when they make no sense at all. To misquote a favorite college source, Higher Learning is sound and fury signifying nothing--except, perhaps, that Singleton needs to quit trying to explain the world to us and start telling low-key stories about real human beings again, instead of making pretentious botch jobs that feel like a special two-hour episode of "A Different World" directed by Oliver Stone.

Higher Learning. Columbia. Omar Epps, Laurence Fishburne, Ice Cube, Kristi Swanson. Written and directed by John Singleton. Columbia Pictures.

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