Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The perenially favourite theme of dodgy male role models is explored in this debut feature from Sheldon Candis, which succeeds on an emotional level even if it fails to deliver anything very surprising in terms of plot. That misspelling in the title, transporting the word love into a sort of cut-price, less satisfying version of the same thing, is similar to what happens to the relationships here, not all of which are as deeply rooted as those involved might think.

An ordinary trip to school turns into something else altogether for 11-year-old Woody (Michael Rainey Jr). Living at home with his grandma (Lonette Mackee) because his absentee mum is, according to gran, away in North Carolina, and without any male role model to speak of, Woody sees the arrival of his fresh-from-jail Uncle Vincent (Common) as a wondrous event.

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The short trip to the school gates, however, ends with Vincent pledging to "show him what it takes to be a man across the board" - the sort of grand statement that can never bode well in down-at-heel Baltimore. Vincent is, like so many ex-cons on film before him - fully intending to go straight. But his plans of taking the seafood restaurant world by storm hit immediate problems with the bank, meaning that unless he can come up with $20,000 before the following Monday, the dream will never become a reality.

And so, with the newly suited Mini-Me Woody in tow, Vincent heads to see his old associates, including the men who were like father figures to him, Mr Fish (Dennis Haysbert, playing against his usual butter-wouldn't-melt good guy type) and Arthur (Dennis Glover). His intention is to convince them to invest in his venture but it seems there may well be unfinished business of another sort - with a suspicion that Mr Fish would prefer to be greeting the prodigal with an open gun barrel rather than open arms.

As things take an increasingly violent turn, Woody has a fast-forward coming-of-age, with many of the skills he picks up decidedly unwelcome. Candis has a good eye for framing and cleverly shows events from the child's perspective. He also conjures up a good sense of place and gets some terrific performances from his cast. While good work can be expected from the likes of Haysbert and Glover, newcomer Rainey brings a lot to Woody, keeping his emotions believable and the chemistry between him and Vincent impressively volatile, even as his actions start to push the bounds of credibility.

And it is the issue of credibility - and some overbearing scoring from Nuno Malo - that ultimately undermine the film. The gritty realism of Baltimore's underbelly bangs up against screenwriter Justin Wilson's plot twists as they stray into realms more suited to fable. If Woody had been a 13-year-old character, his transition from naif to gangster would have been more acceptable. As it is, his actions start to strain the bounds of probability somewhere around the midway point and snap the film into unbelievability by the final act. Despite this, Woody's internal emotional journey remains compelling and the film shows that Candis - from whom, I'm certain we will see more - is able to get admirable performances from a cast of mixed experience.

Reviewed on: 14 Mar 2012
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An 11-year-old boy has a sharp coming-of-age as he spends a day in the company of his uncle.
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Director: Sheldon Candis

Writer: Sheldon Candis, Justin Wilson

Starring: Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton

Year: 2012

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: US


Sundance 2012

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