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O (March 10/02)

Based on Othello, O is a contemporary update that proves not everything Shakespeare wrote has relevance in this day and age.

Set in a modern-day high school, the film revolves around a group of basketball players and their friends. On the team are Hugo (Josh Hartnett), Odin (Mekhi Phifer) and Michael - a trio that seemingly get along well. But just beneath the surface lies Hugo's rage and jealousy, directed mostly towards Odin. Odin's won the respect and admiration of his peers and - this is the part that ticks Hugo off the most - Hugo's own father, who just happens to coach the team (and even says that Odin is like a son to him). Hugo's not going to take this lying down, so he comes up with a plot designed to destroy Odin (and heck, a few other people too - just for good measure). He enlists a former boyfriend of the beautiful Desi, Odin's current squeeze, to assist in the scheme. Desi (played by Julia Stiles) eventually becomes an unwitting pawn in Hugo's plot, which lends the film some of that good ol' Shakespearean tragedy we've been waiting for.

While O does contain some good performances and a creative sense of direction by Tim Blake Nelson, the film never really becomes anything more than a curiosity. The developments that occur throughout are far too overwrought to really be convincing, and the dialogue - which remains far too faithful to Shakespeare's intentions - comes off as forced and stagy. It's just too artificial to ever really be convincing.

The movie is mostly entertaining, though, if only for the purpose of watching Hugo's plan spiral completely out of control. Which is actually another fault of the film; turning the Iago character from the original play into an "aw shucks" teen. It's easy enough to picture a morose count implementing such a complex scheme, but this movie asks us to believe that this kid could orchestrate this plot when he barely looks old enough to buy alcohol. And Hartnett doesn't exactly come off as the cerebral type.

O is a cut above most movies featuring teenagers, but considering that its competition is crap like She's All That and Summer Catch - that's not saying much.

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