Sunday, April 14, 2013

LUV (2013)


I never thought a filmmaker would use the neighborhoods from The Wire to stage an inner city version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  There are the row houses, the corners, and the back lots that anyone familiar with the HBO series will recognize.    Omar (Michael Kenneth Williams) even shows up as a cop this time.  Throw in a dash of the ‘just out of prison and trying to make good’ plot device and then you have LUV.

Vincent (Common) is fresh out of prison only doing 8 years on what should have been 20.  This makes people nervous, especially his old boss and crew, but the film skips over the hows and whys Vincent was let loose so early.  LUV is not a legal or police procedural.  Vincent is not innocent either.  He most likely got off with a slap on the wrist if even a few of the crimes that are mentioned throughout the movie are true.

Vincent’s nephew, Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.), appears to be around 11 or 12 years old and lives with his grandma.  Mom is absent and never calls; Woody usually hears she is ‘down south’ but she is always thinking about him.  It looks like Vincent is the first man Woody spends any significant amount of time with and Vincent eagerly volunteers as role model.

Unfortunately, Vincent is the absolute last man who should raise his hand to teach Woody life lessons.  Inexplicably driving a very nice Mercedes and sporting a nice suit, just out of prison and all, Vincent has Woody skip school to hang out with him today, not only to conduct business, but also to teach him about the ‘real’ world.  Vincent’s real world includes firearms, narcotics, gangland trouble, and even murder. 

Before Vincent came along, Woody looked like he was on the straight and narrow.  He is shy around girls, likes to draw his own comic books, and dreams about his absent mother at night.  Vincent can’t have his nephew being nervous around girls; he appears visibly upset when young Woody fails to “holla at them shortys over there.”  

Throughout the day’s business, Vincent and Woody interact with multiple characters around town that are a “who’s-who” in famous African American actors.  There are Dennis Haysbert and Danny Glover as Vincent’s old boss and his brother and Charles S. Dutton as an old reliable informant.  Our man Vincent really is trying to stay on the good side of the law but he is no saint.  There is a run-in with his old girlfriend and multiple shady situations where breaking some laws are just a means to get to his forthright end.

Common, rapper and sometimes actor, as Vincent is effective and believable and it’s good to see him break out of his usual sidekick roles (Date Night, Terminator Salvation, etc…).  Michael Rainey Jr. is a breakout star though.  This kid steals the whole show even when he is in the same room as Glover and Haysbert.  I really hope we see more him in the future.  

Woody knows the different between right and wrong; Vincent most likely knew the difference at one time but chose to take a more criminal path.  Will Woody be smart enough to see through Vincent’s flashy exterior and platitudes about family bonds?  A stronger screenplay would have set that choice up a bit stronger, but this independent film is strong enough to make the audience think about it.  

Directed by:  Sheldon Candis
Written by:  Sheldon Candis, Justin Wilson
Starring:  Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, Meagan Good, Lonette McKee, Michael Kenneth Williams, Russell Hornsby, Hayward Armstrong

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