Kenya McQueen has a problem. Not only does she have a name that sounds like the tagline for an African sequel to “Bullitt,” she’s also desperately lonely. Her dreams of the perfect wedding are interrupted by her alarm clock, which rouses Kenya (Sanaa Lathan) with depressing regularity every morning she can leave her newly purchased home and go to her job as a senior manager at an accounting firm. Being on the fast track for partner doesn’t leave a lot of time for romance, and even if it did, Kenya’s mental checklist of qualifications for her ideal man is a formidable hedge against all but the most dogged suitors.
Enter Brian (Simon Baker), who meets Kenya for a blind date. Brian’s a nice enough fellow, even if he does happen to be, well, white. Kenya, irrevocably picky as she is, cuts the date short. Fortunately for her, Brian is a landscape architect who – after an annoyingly coincidental encounter at a friend’s home – just might be able to salvage her back yard and, dare I say, scale the battlements of her heart?
If you thought that was cheesy, then “Something New” probably isn’t for you. The movie is full of canned corn moments, and contrary to what the title suggests, there’s little originality to be found in this story of an uptight woman who, through a series of occasionally sweet and often maudlin occurrences, drops her façade to the guy who – at first blush – is all wrong for her. Then again, it doesn’t hurt that the guy is a strapping blond hunk of masculinity whose bulging muscles first pique Kenya’s interest as he’s pulling stumps from her yard. At least he keeps his shirt on.
If the plot is depressingly familiar, at least one aspect separates it from similar films aimed at an African-American audience (“Waiting to Exhale,” “The Brothers”), and that’s the casting of a white guy as the romantic lead. The character of Brian is refreshing because the script allows him to skirt the stereotypical treatment of Caucasians in these kinds of movies. He’s not stiff, or awkward, or overtly racist. If anything, he’s more laid-back than just about any of the black characters, especially Kenya, and if their chemistry isn’t completely believable, at least they’ll have good looking kids.
Of course, being the type of woman she is, Kenya has to look a gift horse in the mouth and bite Brian’s head off for a fairly innocuous comment. Enter Blair Underwood, who matches up much better with her checklist (and also has her mother’s stamp of approval). Kenya now has to choose between the sweaty Bohemian Adonis or the upwardly mobile IBM (Ideal Black Man…their words, not mine).
“Something New” might take a different approach to the interracial dating dynamic, but when it comes to making any actually statement about racism, director Sanaa Hamri and screenwriter Kriss Turner would rather play it safe. Brian wins Kenya’s friends over fairly easily, and any comments made about the matchup are fairly good-natured. What we’re left with is a standard romantic comedy with a few decent jungle fever jokes thrown in to spice up the formula. It’ll appeal to that segment of the population that goes to movies like this on Valentine’s Day, but other than that, “Something New” feels pretty worn.