One can hardly distinguish the racial tension from the sexual tension in "Something New," and that — the smart, forcible coupling of taboos — is what makes this otherwise formulaic romantic comedy so giddily satisfying.
The cast is pretty fly, too. Sanaa Lathan (“Love and Basketball”) is adorably uptight as Kenya, a rising Los Angeles-area corporate accountant who spends Valentine's Day with a close-knit circle of single, successful black girlfriends lamenting the marital statistics for their ilk (42.4 percent will never find a husband) and fantasizing about their “IBM” — Ideal Black Man.
It feels a lot like a scene from “Sex and the City,” right down to the nympho Samantha character (Wendy Raquel Robinson from “Rebound”) who's always sharing her self-gratifying habits and such.
As a member of the black elite, Kenya has created a life for herself almost as insular and prejudiced as the folks on the other side of the freeway in Bel Air. (Judging from the lack of white faces in her upscale neighborhood — a rarified area of South Central known as View Park — maybe even more so.) This makes for a horrific blind date when she gets set up with Brian (Simon Baker from “Land of the Dead”), a handsome white landscape architect who isn't the least bit fazed when the two meet at the Magic Johnson-owned Starbucks in Watts.
“Nervous?” Brian asks, the only pale face in the bunch.
"Because you're talking to strangers. Making sure everybody knows you're down."
Naturally, Brian — the Jeep-driving, dog-owning, Latino-befriending landscaper — is a lot more "down" than Kenya. So even though she rejects him initially, she does hire him to fix her thorny, unkempt backyard. (That's a metaphor, kids.) Curiosity morphs into temptation, and when Brian tells her, "I take hard earth and make things grow," she quite reasonably provides him with sod.
And then comes the hard part. Despite their tender private moments and physical compatibility — Lathan and Baker make a handsome if undersexed twosome — Kenya never feels quite comfortable taking him to parties. (Disapproving clucks from her snobby mother, played by Alfre Woodard, don't help.)
But screenwriter Kriss Turner (TV's “Everybody Hates Chris”) and first-time director Sanaa Hamri are too smart to simply reverse the racial playing field. In a great supermarket scene, Kenya spells out the modern black experience in lucid, compelling terms.
This is all so much more gratifying and romantic than, say, Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever," in which the topic of black-white romance was essentially treated as kink.
The rest is pure romantic boilerplate, including the “other man" (Blair Underwood), who's so clingy and expectant that Kenya virtually has no choice but to turn a color-blind eye.