Reinventing romance

“Something New”

Focus FeaturesDirected by Sanaa HamriWritten by Kriss TurnerStarring: Sanaa Lathan, Simon Baker, Blair Underwood, Alfre Woodard, Mike Epps and Donald Faison Rated PG-13/100 minutes

Three-and-a-half out of four stars

Opens Friday, Feb. 3

“Something New” really is something new, or at least rare these days-it’s a smart, sexy, adult romance that doesn’t stoop to the peanut gallery. It’s a film about blacks dealing not so much with interracial prejudice but with pressures and expectations within their own race. Tyler Perry should take notes.

Sanaa Lathan is tough and radiant as Kenya, a buttoned-up career climber who has the habit of making mental lists of things she doesn’t like. On the weekends, she works at home, hunched over her laptop, surrounded by dcor with all the thrilling color tonality of a hotel room.

Occasionally, Kenya goes out with her girlfriends and they chat about 42.4-that’s the percentage of unmarried black woman in the United States, according to whichever junk statistic they’ve read in a magazine.

At the top of Kenya’s “Don’t Do” list are blind dates-so it’s with great reluctance and pessimism that she agrees to be set up with Brian (Simon Baker), a landscape architect who-surprise!-is a blond white guy with a golden retriever (Kenya doesn’t dig dogs, either).

Dating a white guy with a blue collar isn’t Kenya’s idea of perfection. She was raised in an affluent black society of doctors and lawyers, and her mother (Alfre Woodard) expects her to marry into, not out of, the club.

The date is an awkward disaster, but Kenya sees Brian’s talent with flora and hires him to spruce up her backyard. As she watches Brian through the sliding glass door, his muscles bulging as he grips a pry rod, Kenya’s body says yes, but her head says no, no, no?well, OK.

“Something New” is director Sanaa Hamri’s first feature, and she already has a deft touch at romance. When Kenya and Brian share a bed for the first time, his fingers explore the geography of her face in a long take that’s charged with sexual energy.

The script by Kriss Turner is skillful in its way of creating conflict, not out of dumb complications, but out of the social and racial conflicts that snipe at Kenya and Brian’s relationship.

“Something New” is a bit of a surprise-January and February are the infamous dumping grounds for movies in which the studios have little to no faith. Believe me when I say that “Something New” is something worth seeing.

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