Considering that its principals are models, rappers and model-rappers, you might not expect much from Four Brothers, a late-summer actioner set in snowbound Detroit. You'd be mistaken. The movie takes its time warming barstools and playing pick-up hockey in an attempt to establish director John Singleton's characteristic dude-like neighborhood vibe, but it gets cooking all right, transforming into a surprisingly hardy revenge yarn.
At its best this is grade-A pulp from the land of Elmore Leonard: cops on the take, informers flung out of housing-project windows and left broken-boned on the sidewalk, Marvin Gaye and Grover Washington Jr. on the soundtrack, car chases with disco strings, and rusty American clunkers plowing through blizzard conditions. The humor is offhand and more effective than you'd think. The running gag is that the local crime boss (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his toadies are family men. They humiliate a squealer by banishing him to the kids' table (the setting is Thanksgiving), and a Volvo SUV stars in a sweet action set-piece that kicks the movie into gear.
Also a family are the film's vigilantes (Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, AndrÃ Benjamin and Garrett Hedlund), all grown-up brothers adopted in their youth by a nice old lady (Fionnula Flanagan) recently murdered in a bodega robbery. In the movie's biggest reach, poor Hedlund has been cast as an aspiring rock star ' Billy Idol with Buster Poindexter's hair ' and he looks completely at sea. We gather he's gay because Wahlberg is always teasing him about fellatio and hands him a tire tool instead of a shotgun when the brothers go into battle.
In other words, there's nothing sophisticated about the story. This is the kind of scrappy '70s-throwback B-movie that fits the bill when you desperately need to see regular-seeming, occasionally inept people rise up against our corrupt criminal oppressors and cudgel them with pool cues and bits of blasted-off brick.