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Opposites attract Interracial romance gets the comic -- and unconventional -- treatment

"Something New" isn't.

Not really.

In fact, every time its female friends convene for fancy cocktails, squabbles and raunchy dish, the film is trying so hard to give you a spritz of "Sex and the City" that you wish they'd find some fresher cliches. They are, by far, the movie at its stalest and worst.

But there is an interesting semi-new subject in this sweet, sexy comedy about an interracial romance: a black upper-class, complete with debutante cotillions wherein young women make their "debuts" in black society.

It's about an uptight, no-longer-that-young black woman who is, any way you slice it, more than a bit of a wretched snob. She won't date white men, she doesn't like dogs or the outdoors and everything in her house is a pale shade of beige. So far, so is her life.

It runs in the family. Her Jaguar-driving lawyer brother doesn't like mingling with "the help" (nor does the film offer us his much-desired social comeuppance.) And their mother -- played by the venerable Alfre Woodard -- is the kind of woman who, as the heroine puts it, "thinks bright colors are for children and whores."

They are upper-class snobs right out of movies in 1936 except for one thing -- the McQueen family is black. Dad is an eminent physician, little brother is a lawyer and their beloved daughter Kenya McQueen (star Sanaa Lathan) is a major-league accounting whiz on the fast track to a partnership in a her big fancy L.A. firm (which she calls "the plantation").

And that's where things really do get a bit interesting.

The life of the upwardly mobile black professional is not well-traveled territory in American movies and this one, to its credit, takes some time exploring it.

We learn from them about the "black tax" on black professionals -- where they have to "work twice as hard" to prove themselves equal. The heroine can't explain it to a sympathetic white man because "no one ever reminds you you're white. That's what being black is all about. You never get a day off."

We learn, though, that class rigidity is, in its dismal way, color-blind.

Kenya, our heroine, is looking for an "IBM" -- an Ideal Black Man. That is, a good-looking, well-off, ambitious doctor or lawyer or whatever who is just as hard-working and fast-tracked as she is.

Unfortunately, the fellow who comes into her life is a white landscape architect (NOT a gardener, of course) -- hunky and muscular and aesthetic and ideal for her but the wrong skin color. He's played by Simon Baker who was TV's "The Guardian" and, in the movies, George A. Romero's last zombie fighter in a "living dead" movie.

"I just happen to prefer black men," she tells him. "It's not a prejudice. It's a preference."

Somehow or other, the IWM (ideal white man -- my abbreviation) is smitten enough with her conspicuous super-fineness to ignore enough frost, snobbery and behavioral unpleasantness to send less persistent men out the door and into the nearest happy hour.

Soon they're caught in a rainstorm and begin to heed the ancient song of the blood within. He gets her to loosen up, play with his dog, Max, put colors into her living room and even take out her hair weave. The reverse racial spin on conventional interracial romance is more than a little interesting.

You can't say she's getting her groove back (a la Terry McMillan's Stella) because we're led to believe she never really had a groove in the first place.

Then a genuine IBM, in the person of a law professor played by Blair Underwood, shows up -- handsome, suave as all get out, rich, successful and, at the same time, a romantically clumsy crashing bore.

Romance-wise, it all goes where you expect. Gently mocking the high society cotillion is as socially egalitarian as this vehemently bourgeois movie gets (an enormous amount of pure snobbery is as well-protected here as a member of the Bush family). If you ask me, there's a lot unaccounted for at the end.

But it's certainly sweet and well-intentioned and sexy enough to pass the time with, if you're at all inclined.

Something New

Review: 2 1/2 stars (Out of 4)

Sanaa Lathan, Simon Baker, Mike Epps, Blair Underwood and Alfre Woodard in Sanaa Hamri's romantic comedy about interracial romance. Rated PG-13, opening Friday in area theaters.

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

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