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MOVIE REVIEW : 'How U Like Me' Uneven Yet Worthy

April 23, 1993|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In "How U Like Me Now" (selected theaters), writer-producer-director-co-star Darryl Roberts has lots on his mind and spreads himself extremely thin in expressing all he has to say. He should have tightened his sprawling script ruthlessly before he ever made his first shot; his film, as it stands now, needs further pruning. Yet he deserves to be encouraged, for his film is as worthy as it is wildly uneven.

We need more films that deal with the lives of ordinary African-Americans and their aspirations rather than those movies that exploit drug-peddling and gang warfare. To his credit, Williams has brought alive five young men and three young women trying to find their way professionally and romantically in present-day Chicago.

Its key couple, Darnell Williams' Thomas and Salli Richardson's Valerie, are heading for a split after living together for eight months in Thomas' chic townhouse. (However can they afford it?) Thomas is sliding into such indifference that he's in danger of losing his dead-end warehouseman's job while the beautiful and ambitious Valerie is up for an important promotion in her office. Not helping matters is the fact that Thomas is a decidedly selfish lover.

Thomas spends considerable time with his pals--B.J. (Roberts himself), a passionate but despairing activist; Spoony (Daniel Gardner), a crude-talking, cynical yet surprisingly vulnerable taxi driver; and Alex (Raymond Whitfield), a handsome big spender with lavish tastes given to bragging about his sexual and business prowess. In addition to Valerie, the key women are Michelle (Debra Crable), Thomas's forthright yet sympathetic boss, and Jonelle Kennedy's Sharon, Alex's opposite number, a glamorous, hardened gold digger secretly desperate to land a husband. Finally, there's Byron Stewart's scene-stealing Pierre, Valerie's witty hairdresser/confidante--a feisty, upfront gay man.

Roberts deals with everything from sexual harassment in the office to interracial dating but is above all concerned with values--the importance of placing the spiritual over the material and even the intellectual. He is very good at writing and directing intimate scenes with his many fine actors but crucially needs to develop a sense of pace and to avoid needless wearying repetition. The problems that beset Thomas and Valerie are completely real and offer wide identification, but Roberts' parting shot at Valerie seems not just a little sexist and punitive--especially since, as far as we can see, Thomas really hasn't fully earned her renewed respect.

Roberts is fortunate in his flexible, easy-flowing cinematographer Michael Goi, and his adroit, lively composers Kahil El Zabar and Chuck Webb. "How U Like Me Now" (rated R for strong language and for sexuality), while flawed, has enough going for it to make you want to see Roberts' next picture.

'How U Like Me Now'

Darnell Williams: Thomas

Salli Richardson: Valerie

Daniel Gardner: Spoony

Raymond Whitefield: Alex

Debra Crable: Michelle

Darryl Roberts: B.J.

Byron Stewart: Pierre

Jonelle Kennedy: Sharon

A Shapiro Glickenhaus Entertainment presentation of an Avant Garde production in association with Woolf Vision Enterprises. Writer-producer-director Darryl Roberts. Executive producer Bob Woolf. Cinematographer Michael Goi. Editor Tom Miller. Music Kahil El Zabar, Chuck Webb. Art director Kathy Domokos. Sound Mike Terry. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (for strong language and for sexuality).

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