“In The Hive,” a film based on a true story, is the latest project produced and directed by Chicagoan Robert Townsend. It is also notable as the last performance by fellow Chicagoan Michael Clarke Duncan but the impact of the film reaches across the country in the midst of inner city desperation and teen violence.
At first glance some might attempt to write this film off as a preachy melodrama but “In the Hive” is captivating film with dramatic moments and magnetic performances from new and established faces that keep viewers on the edge of their seats.
“The Hive” is an actual alternative school for at-risk teens, boys who have been kicked out of other schools and no school will accept them due to behavior or learning issues. “The Hive” is their last chance.
The film centers around a young man, Xtra Keys, who is raised in an environment of destructive behavior and through tough love from the Hive staff seeks to make different choices even while his home life fights against the change. The role of Xtra is played by Jonathan “Lil J” McDaniel, a name and face to look out for in the future. I assumed he was a new actor but young audiences will know him as the boyfriend from the Disney hit television series “That’s So Raven.”
In the early stages of the film he is so convincingly menacing you would assume that was all he could offer but as we move along in the story he is equally sensitive in trying to keep his dysfunctional family together.
His mother, played by Vivica Fox, is a desperate woman who uses her body to leverage their survival, desperately chasing men “for a few dollars” or an opportunity. There is a scene where she comes into the trailer where they live drunk with her new “boyfriend.” When the boyfriend leaves for the bathroom she attempts to have a normal conversation with her son about his day but is constantly interrupted by a sexually suggestive conversation yelled from the bathroom by the boyfriend of the moment. The scene is powerful.
Most of the young men in the film are believable, including a good performance by Percy Daggs III who portrays a charismatic drug dealer attempting to charm his way thru life while ignoring the pain of his home life. The always scene-stealing Loretta Devine is tough and loving as Ms. Inez, the founder of the Hive who gives Xtra a humorous lesson in spelling profanity after he defaces school property.
The stand out performance is by the now-deceased Michael Clarke Duncan. Most films featured Duncan only for his menacing size but in this role we see a multi-dimensional character who is unafraid to show he cares about the kids but willing to step to them when they get out of line. This is his best and most complete work on film.
“In The Hive” is a good film but this is a movie that parents and teens can equally enjoy and most importantly it’s a film teenagers will go to school talking about to their friends and that is what good movies are truly supposed to do.