March 17, 1997 12:00 PM

Larenz Tate, Nia Long, Bill Bellamy

Here’s yet another film in which talented twentysomethings with no discernable sources of steady funds manage, through the magic of movies, to live in spacious, sleekly furnished, big-city apartments boasting fully stocked kitchens. Where were these places when the rest of us were using stereo speakers for chairs and munching saltines in one-room dumps?

Minor carping aside, Love Jones is a smart, sassy romantic comedy set in Chicago and focused on a tightly knit group of friends who happen to be young, gifted and black. They debate life’s big questions and hang out at poetry jams, which is-where the movie’s main couple, an aspiring writer (Tate) and a photographer (Long), meet. It’s obvious from the start that these two are meant for each other, despite their separate but equal declarations to friends that “this ain’t no love thing.” Unwilling to permanently pair them off so early on, Jones spins its plot gears, splitting them apart. Along the way, there’s much snappy dialogue (“Marvin is officially black history,” a woman says dismissively of an ex-beau), a canny grasp of the shifting alliances within a group of friends, and strong, sexy performances by Tate and Long. Jones is director-screenwriter Theodore Witcher’s first movie, and I eagerly await his second. (R)

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