In the Hive | Movie review
Robert Townsend’s reform-school drama fails to transcend its didactic intentions.
More outreach component than engaging movie, In the Hive follows a group of new arrivals at a reform school that aims to help them out of the life. The movie soon zeroes in on Xtra (Jonathan “Lil J” McDaniel), the only student the tough-love principal, Mr. Hollis (the late Michael Clarke Duncan), regards as having college potential. Director Robert Townsend (The Five Heartbeats, The Meteor Man) effectively shows how pressure not just from gang leaders but from family and friends weighs on his protagonist; in moments, Xtra feels as though learning is akin to betrayal. (The scenes of him chatting with his jailed, abusive father pack a particular chill.)
Mostly, though, In the Hive fails to rise above its nakedly didactic intentions. Separating the class into groups based on how likely they are to graduate, Duncan’s Hollis briefly imbues the film’s lesson making with real, dramatic gravitas. But the low-budget execution is clumsy (a fishing-trip scene looks distractingly unconvincing) and the character arcs too tidy. Loretta Devine’s school cook provides the mothering the boys can’t get at home; Ali Liebert’s idealistic English teacher, who shows Xtra the definition of chutzpah, gets an education of her own. Although a scene of her crying over something he’s written feels hopelessly ersatz, the movie rallies with an open-ended finale: What would you do, it asks, in Xtra’s shoes?