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Film: Soul food on ice

Families coming apart in both the suburbs and the ghetto

Whether among poor blacks in the inner city or affluent whites in the suburbs, the institution of the family has been coming apart. Two new films are not worth watching by Christians, but they are worth noting, for they show, purposely or not, the devastating social and personal consequences. Ang Lee, best known as the director of Sense and Sensibility, now chronicles a time with less sense or sensibility: 1973, when swinging suburbanites embrace the sexual revolution. The Ice Storm revolves around adultery, marital counseling, and murmurs of divorce.

For all of their sexual freedom, nobody is happy. Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) has an affair with Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), while their adolescent kids experiment with drugs, alcohol, and sex. The parents are too busy seeking self-fulfillment and self-realization to give them direction.

The characters end up in a tragedy of confusion, meaninglessness, and death. Endless scenes of self-destructive behavior show the alleged happiness of free love melting like ice, and nobody ever admits the need to repent.

Soul Food, a surprise hit movie,tells the story of a black family kept together for 40 years with huge dinners held every Sunday after church. Over massive plates of fried catfish and sweet potato pie, Grandma (Irma P. Hall) keeps peace between her three married daughters. When she falls into a diabetic coma, the tradition is broken and the squabbling begins.

Soul Food has a great concept: The Sunday dinner is a terrific symbol of family unity. Trouble is, the execution doesn't work-and the sex and profanity ruin this as a family film. We're supposed to sympathize with the characters, but most of them are too irresponsible to deserve it.

The direction, script, and performances are straight out of TV-movie land. The family's faith is nonexistent besides having the preacher over for supper every week. It never moves beyond the level of the pop tunes director George Tillman Jr. performs under the stage name Babyface. Put simply, Soul Food is undercooked.