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MOVIE REVIEW

'Phat Beach' Mixes Raunch With a Hard-Hitting Beat

August 03, 1996|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Phat Beach," which opened Friday, is a raunchy summer comedy, more familiar than hilarious, and owes much to the vitality and talent of its stars, Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins and Brian Hooks, and the way they play off each other. It bills itself as the first hip-hop beach movie, perhaps accurately: Along with its stars it depends much upon its sock-it-to-'em soundtrack, a mix of numerous artists new and established.

Hopkins' Benny is a hefty Bakersfield youth who can't get any respect. Once his family is off on a vacation, his pal Durrel (Hooks) bamboozles him out of his fast-food restaurant summer job, gets him to empty his savings account of $300 and to take off for Malibu in his father's cherished Mercedes convertible.

Fast-talking Durrel, for whom women are good for only one thing, promises the virginal, easily manipulated Benny that scoring is all a matter of attitude, the size of his waistline be damned. But wouldn't you know: Benny is so pole-axed by one look at the curvaceous but coldhearted Candace (Claudia Kaleem) that he fails to notice that his attempts at poetry have not been lost upon the lovely, intelligent Denise (Jennifer Lucienne).

It takes a while for Benny to wise up to Durrel, see the light and assert himself. In the meantime director Doug Ellin and his co-writers serve up a barrage of sexist images, attitudes and jokes as Durrel ogles one bikini-clad babe after another. They eventually subvert this mind-set about women but not before making sure that the young males in the audience to whom the film is so clearly aimed have first had plenty opportunity to enjoy themselves.

Add in its strong dose of four-letter words--one in particular--and "Phat Beach" gets pretty crass pretty quickly. That's where Hopkins, a talented actor who makes Benny likable though naive, and Hooks are a big help. Hooks makes Durrel so irrepressible, so unapologetic, in his reckless, single-minded pursuit of nonstop sexual fun and games, regardless of consequences or circumstances, that it's actually hard to dislike him. Hopkins and Hooks are such a natural team, it's likely they'll show up on the screen together again.

* MPAA rating: R, for sexuality, nudity and strong language. Times guidelines: The film has much sexist humor, strong language and much emphasis on sex.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

'Phat Beach'

Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins: Benny King

Brian Hooks: Durrel Jackson

Coolio: as Himself

Tiny "Zeus" Lester Jr.: Tiny

An Orion release of a Live Entertainment presentation in association with Connection III Entertainment Corp. Director Doug Ellin. Producer Cleveland O'Neal III. Executive producer Michael Schultz. Screenplay by Doug Ellin, Brian E. O'Neal and Ben Morris. Cinematographer Jurgen Baum. Editors Richard Nord, Jeremy Craig Kasten. Costumes Mona Thalheimer. Music composer Joe Williams. Production designers Terri Schaetzle, Colleen Devine. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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