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A gangbanger finds redemption in Robert Townsend’s ‘In the Hive’

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‘IN THE HIVE’ ★★½

Entertainment One presents a film directed by Robert Townsend. Written by Cheryl L. West. Running time: 99 minutes. Rated R (for language, some sexual references and brief drug-related material). Opening Friday at the Chatham 14 Cinemas.

Updated: March 2, 2013 6:01AM



The real-life story of educator-mentor Vivian Saunders is truly inspiring. The mother of two, she founded an alternative school, called the Hive, for troubled boys in Bertie County, N.C. “I see the potential in people that others have given up on,” she told the local publication the Bertie County Beehive. “When I view the world in this way, it allows me to identify people who are willing and eager to learn and have humility.”

That empathetic side of Saunders, as well as her inherent toughness and penchant for whipping up delicious meals, are all part of actress Loretta Devine’s portrayal of Saunders in “In the Hive.” Directed by Chicago native Robert Townsend, “Hive” has been making the festival rounds for a while and features one of the last screen roles by Michael Clarke Duncan, who died last September.

The film’s main character, named Xtra Keys, is a smart but explosive gangbanger with a huge chip on his shoulder. “Live in confusion, never with a confused mind” is the copiously tattooed 16-year-old’s motto.

As played by Jonathan “’Lil J” McDaniel, he’s got more than a few poignant moments: with Devine, who as the Saunders-modeled Mrs. Inez becomes his adoptive mother after a brief period of strife (“The harder the child,” she believes, “the greater the need to find a soft place in you”); with actress Vivica A. Fox, who plays Keys’ caring but deeply damaged mother, and especially with Roger Guenveur Smith, who simmers with menace as Keys’ jailed and estranged father. “What did I tell you about these white people playing puppy games with your head, trying to make you soft?” the incarcerated gang lord asks his son during a prison visit. He also suggests that to make extra money, Keys should put his younger brother and sister to work making Internet porn.

The problems, then, are largely script-related. One platitude is too many, and this story has several. Ditto cliches, both character-based and spoken. “Until these boys know you care for them, they won’t care to learn,” Mrs. Inez informs a stereotypically rich, white and clueless teacher whose idealism is quickly shattered when her swaggering charges bite back. More egregious is this line, from the principal Mr. Hollis (Duncan), to Keys: “It only takes one bright light to lead out of the darkness, and that’s what you can be for the other boys.”

Besides those groaners, tension and mistrust between Mrs. Inez, her staff and their Hive pupils are too quickly resolved. Granted, there are only so many minutes to play with — “The Hobbit,” this ain’t — but most of the wayward youths seem to morph from hard-ass to marshmallow in record time. Even Keys is semi-transformed, though ultimately his thug past threatens his promising future. “Your destiny don’t give a damn about your past,” Mr. Hollis preaches to his students earlier in the film. “It only cares about the choices you’re making right now, all of which add up to your future.”

Platitudinous? Sure. But in the case of at least one character, it’s also wrong.



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