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A hip-hop remake of 'Gatsby,' 'G' seldom leaps to life

Because the world really needs a hip-hop remake of ''The Great Gatsby" set in the Hamptons, here's ''G," a 2002 drama making its theatrical debut today like a boat beating against the current. If the movie's not as bad as it sounds, it's not all that great, either.

Mostly, Christopher Scott Cherot's drama is an honorable attempt laid low by a verbose script, cheap production values, and a general tendency toward soap opera. It also has in Chenoa Maxwell's Sky Hightower -- the Daisy Buchanan figure in this buppie melodrama -- an actress of beauty and vapidity.

Rather better are Richard T. Jones and Blair Underwood as the two men vying for her. The former plays Summer G, a brooding new-money rap impresario who suggests Gatsby by way of Sean ''Insert My New Nickname Here" Combs. The latter is the film's Tom Buchanan: frosty, nasty financier Chip Hightower, living in entitled Hamptons splendor among his white peers. The film offers a few interesting insights into African-American class differences, but only a few.

''G" is more content to jog alongside F. Scott Fitzgerald's plot outline, every so often veering left or right. Hip-hop journalist Tracy Hutcherson (Andre Royo) is the Nick Carraway-style observer, arriving in the Hamptons to interview Summer while staying with his cousin Sky. Disgusted by Chip's brutal treatment of his mistress (Marcia Wright) and certain he's taking the high moral ground, Tracy arranges for G to reconnect with Sky. You know what they say about no good deed going unpunished.

The Hamptons locations are lovely to look at even through the film's washed-out cinematography, and the portrait of a black upper-middle-class summer community is one the movies don't draw often enough. (Other than Damian Young as a stuffy neighbor, the film's white characters stay on the sidelines.) Jones makes a charismatic, deep-voiced tragic figure, too, but the script lets him down, spending more time than it should with the stable of music talent sharing G's summer house. They include a Lil' Kim-alike (Jillian Lindsay), an unthreatening gangsta rapper (Nicoye Banks), and a one-hit wonder (Laz Alonso) whose marriage is on the rocks.

That said, the film leaps to life only when these urban invaders come up against the moneyed placidity of Long Island's South Fork. The wittiest encounter in the whole film comes when the performers meet a black preppie driving his Lexus down East Hampton's Main Street. He has no idea who they are, but his white wife knows all their songs. Next to a zinger like that, the rest of ''G" feels like CliffsNotes.

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