Something New is the title of a new romantic comedy from writer Kriss Turner and director Sanaa Hamri. Then again, come to think of it, that statement is only 40 percent true: Turner wrote the movie, and Hamri directed it. But it’s not all that romantic, it’s not very funny, and it’s certainly nothing new.
Sanaa Lathan plays Kenya McQueen, a smart African-American career woman and a rising star at her Los Angeles accounting firm, where her mostly white, mostly male higher-ups are taking notice of her hard work and dedication. Kenya’s devotion to work takes a toll on her romantic life, though, and she celebrates St. Valentine’s Day with her single friends (Golden Brooks, Taraji P. Henson and Felicia Walker). “We may not have everything we want at the moment,” Kenya says, raising her glass in a toast, “but we do have each other.”
The four of them bemoan the shortage of suitable men. Kenya says she’s not holding out for perfection. “He doesn’t have to make a lot of money,” she says, “as long as he’s got a job, no kids, good teeth. He just has to be taller than me, college educated and not crazy.” She glances up at a good-looking young man who passes their table radiating metrosexuality. “Or bisexual,” she adds.
Kenya discovers another qualification she didn’t even think about when a co-worker fixes her up on a blind date. She shows up at a cappuccino bar to meet Brian (Simon Baker) and is immediately surprised and uncomfortable. He’s friendly enough—in fact, his smile gleams like a Steinway with 88 white keys—but it never occurred to Kenya that he might be white. She politely, apologetically disengages herself from the date and goes home.
But she hasn’t seen the last of Brian. A few days later, their paths cross again at a backyard wedding reception for the co-worker who set her up in the first place. When Kenya compliments the hostess on her yard, saying that she’s looking for someone to do the backyard of the house she’s recently bought, the hostess introduces her to her landscape architect—and, needless to say, it’s Brian.
With some misgivings, Kenya hires Brian to landscape her own backyard, and their romance blooms from there, albeit with Kenya pausing at every stage to say something like, “Don’t think this is going any further, because it’s not.”
Eventually, Kenya’s friends and family—her womanizing brother Nelson (Donald Faison of Scrubs) and her status-conscious mother (Alfre Woodard)—begin to notice and take exception to her seeing Brian (“Are you sneakin’ off to the O.C.?” Nelson asks. “Are you skiing the slopes?”). When Nelson fixes Kenya up with Mark Harper (Blair Underwood), the perfect black man—one who, in fact, meets all the criteria, spoken and unspoken, that she mentioned in the first scene—Kenya has to decide what it is she really wants.
Turner’s script for Something New is the kind of thing that would sound clever and promising if it were written by a sophomore at a visual- and performing-arts high school, but coming from a grown-up, it feels, well, sophomoric. Turner, whose experience consists of a handful of sitcoms (Living Single, Whoopi, etc.), reduces everything here to sitcom terms, with the kind of jokes that fall flat without a studio audience carefully primed to whoop and shout, “Tell ’em, girl!” at strategic points.
Director Hamri’s background, on the other hand, is in music videos, and it’s to her credit that she doesn’t resort to soundtrack music to supply emotional hooks (the way, say, Cameron Crowe does in Elizabethtown); she tries to earn them honestly with her actors.
But the casting defeats her and drains any conviction that might have survived Turner’s clumsy TV-style jokes. The thing is, Lathan and Underwood seem like a perfect match, but the chemistry between Lathan and Baker just isn’t there. As Baker plays him, Brian seems like the kind of pretty boy who smiles not because he’s happy or pleased or cheerful, but because long hours in front of a mirror have convinced him that that’s how he looks best. Despite the movie’s follow-your-heart message, it’s hard to believe Kenya and Brian are meant for each other when he seems more in love with himself than he is with her.