Since Boyz 'N the Hood put him on the map, John Singleton has gone as far afield from that territory as a director can, from color-blind social commentary (Higher Learning) to historical drama (Rosewood) to outright escapism (Shaft). Ten years later, he returns to the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles, but this is a kinder, gentler Singleton, one interested in relationships defined more by underlying kindness than vengeful spite, one content to stop shy of operatic tragedy. As a result, Baby Boy feels a little neutered, even if it features astute observations about the societal roles ascribed to young African-American males, as well as the regrettable dynamics that grow from them. Singleton starts by quoting a psychologist who posits that the young black man is treated (and behaves) like a baby, incapable of tapping into a higher purpose while content to languish in neediness. From here he launches into a study of one particular "baby boy," Jody (credibly played by singer Tyrese Gibson in his film debut), whose relationships with the mothers of his two children, as well as his own mother, speak volumes about his stunted growth. Jody's head-butting with his mother's new boyfriend (Ving Rhames) and a paroled thug (Snoop Dogg) showcase more of the familiar friction from Boyz, which also has its place in this world of hair-trigger machismo. Singleton is a bit too heavy-handed -- a mural-sized portrait of slain gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur watches ominously over Jody's bed -- but even in a lesser effort, he remains one of film's most talented chroniclers of underexamined lives.