By Billy Dennis
The indie crime-drama “LUV,” set in urban Baltimore and produced by former Mavericks star Michael Finley, tells the sad story of an 11-year-old boy’s conflicted relationship with his stand-in father figure, Uncle Vincent. Vincent, played by rapper-actor Common (AMC’s “Hell on Wheels”) is just back from an eight-year stint in prison and is desperately trying to begin his life anew.
Opening exclusively at AMC theaters today, the film spans 24 hours in the life of a street-tough ex-con and his shy, timid nephew.
The opening scene is innocuous enough, banal even. Woody, played by newcomer Michael Rainy Jr., is getting ready for school. His clothes are neatly pressed and carefully laid out for him. After getting dressed for school, he then proceeds to the kitchen, where he sits down to eat a nutritious breakfast with his uncle and grandmother.
Vincent, dressed in an impeccable suit, drives his young nephew to school in his brand new Mercedes Benz. Along the way, the two engage in a little back-and-forth playful banter. Vincent asks about his grades, they discuss the race of Jesus, and Woody brags to his uncle about his prowess with the “shorties.”
They pull up to the school, and Vincent catches Woody eyeing a young girl sitting on the front steps. When the girl looks back, embarrassed, Woody looks away. Vincent demands Woody go talk to the girl. When Woody refuses, his uncle drives away. “I’m going to teach you real-world shit,” he says. “What is takes to be a man.”
At this point in the film, I was still optimistic about their relationship. You begin to think the film is about redemption, and hope there is a little John Hughes coming-of-age wisdom thrown in somewhere. Unfortunately, the film descends.
By not having the courage to speak to the young girl, Woody unleashes a disastrous series of events. He will be pulled into a hellish nightmare, and he will be lucky to survive.
But first things first. Before you can learn how to be a man, you must first dress like one. Vincent takes his young protégé to his tailor. The two emerge a few minutes later dressed to the hilt. The clothes are meant to serve as a mask, thus allowing them access to a world to which they do not belong.
Vincent’s plan to make an honest living is to open up a crab shack down by the harbor. So the pair seeks out a loan from the bank. It seems that Vincent has invested his time wisely while in prison and has taken some business classes. Vincent hands over his proposal to the loan officer. Everything appears to be in order.
Unfortunately, they soon discover the collateral, the deed to his mother’s home, has a second mortgage. In fact, the loan is delinquent and in default. If Vincent wants his crab shack, he will have to come up with $22,000.
There is a small part of me that hopes his mother knew this when she agreed to let him borrow $150,000 against her home for a crab shack.
From here, Vincent is pulled back into the shady world of his past. Vincent is incapable of showing Woody how to be a man. Instead, he teaches him how to be criminal. We know that Vincent loves his nephew. But because of his inability to recognize the horrible life lesson he is imparting onto the child, not to mention the incredible danger he puts him in, we begin to lose respect for him.
For me, the movie “LUV” is a mixed bag. The performances by Common and Michael Rainy Jr. are riveting. The direction from first-time director Sheldon Candis is solid. I also enjoyed seeing the city of Baltimore once again cast in a leading role.
However, the story was lacking in its believability. You see a young boy, Woody, go from not being able to make eye contact with a girl and literally hiding behind his uncle’s coat tails in the morning to conducting drug deals with hardened criminals, driving the getaway car for his uncle and brandishing a pistol that night.
Overall, the performances are good enough to keep you watching. However, the story is not strong enough to make you want to do it twice. I give the film 3 out of 5 stars.