Tim Blake Nelson, known to audiences as dim Delmar from the Coen brother”s Odyssey epic “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” has crafted what could have easily been “Save the Last Dance 2.” Instead, “O,” out on DVD next week, is a dark update to Shakespeare”s “Othello” set in the over-privileged world of prep-school basketball.

As atrocious as this sounds on paper, the film really captures the mood and major themes of Othello, updating all of the important characters.

Mekhi Phifer plays Odin James, the black superstar on a fairly white team. Odin is riding high at school, looking to lead his team to another championship season and dating Desi (Julia Stiles) the oh-so-white daughter of the dean (John Heard). His best friend Hugo (Josh Hartnett, all dead eyes and eerie smiles) decides to destroy Odin”s life.

Unlike Shakespeare”s Iago, Hugo”s motivation is explored, but never in full. Odin”s destruction becomes his obsession, yet he never seems obsessed, and his murky reasoning is never entirely satisfying to the audience. For fans of the play, this should be viewed as a positive.

The only add-on comes in the form of Martin Sheen as Hugo”s father and basketball coach Duke “The Duke” Goulding. Sheen does a fine job in a fairly uncomplicated role, yet the presence of his character adds much unwanted melodrama to the otherwise taught production.

The DVD is stocked up with the usual goodies. Nelson is the antithesis of Delmar as he pontificates on jealously and violence. Several deleted scenes are included which add more characterization to characters (especially Elden Henson”s Roger, who stands in for Shakespeare”s Roderigo) but would have ultimately hurt the film”s pacing.

The second disc of the double-disc package includes a silent 1922 version of “Othello.” While it seems to defeat the purpose to play Shakespeare with no sound, it”s a nice feature and interesting to compare the two films.

Technically, the DVD looks and sounds fine, but is nothing spectacular. “O” is a surprisingly sharp, dark film that allows Shakespeare thematic relevance while it avoids preaching the Bard as gospel.

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