When child-services worker Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan) came across four young boys too horrible to place in foster care, she adopted them herself—hence the titular quartet of black and white siblings. Instinctively violent Bobby (Mark Wahlberg) is a career bruiser smart enough to stay out of jail—but not enough to stay out of trouble—who left home looking for something, anything better. Hotheaded lover boy Angel (Tyrese Gibson) found an outlet for his aggression in the military. Wannabe rocker Jack (Garrett Hedlund), the youngest Mercer malcontent, wears his bad attitude in tattoos and black nail polish. Aspiring developer and former union organizer Jeremiah (Andre Benjamin) is the good Mercer boy, the married father who stuck around to watch over his adopted mother. But as former ’round-the-way kid and current homicide detective Lt. Green (Terrence Howard) admits, all four are senators compared to what they could’ve become, all thanks to a woman with the courage to take a chance on them when nobody else would.
And when that woman is murdered in a pre-Thanksgiving corner-store robbery in Four Brothers’ opening minutes, director John Singleton’s latest quickly kicks off its crowd-pleasing, fast-paced thrill ride about the good being punished by the bad and the bad doing worse trying to re-establish the good—or, at least, as close as they can get to it. Against a snowy, dour Detroit backdrop—Hollywood’s current favorite place where black and white coexist in disgruntled working-class harmony and political corruption (see also: Narc, Assault on Precinct 13)—the brothers investigate their mother’s death in ways Lt. Green and his terse partner, Fowler (Josh Charles), cannot.
Singleton’s latest ventures down familiar revenge-flick paths, with the muscular action that peppered his 2000 Shaft remake, but he evens out his usual ham-fisted seriousness thanks to a lively, funny script that spotlights the brothers’ boisterously crude and comical relationships. Sleeping in their mother’s home after her funeral transports them to their wayward teens—complete with a pick-up hockey game—and reminds them what this woman did for them, a moment sentimentally hokey enough to explain why even the mild-mannered Jeremiah grabs a kitchen knife when armed, masked men come to put an end to the Mercer boys’ sleuthing. And that’s just how Four Brothers rolls—it tensely plays out chases and shootings, and in between you get Wahlberg telling a gym full of basketball fans “As sallam a’laikum” and Gibson body-checking people. Good times.