'Training Day' for an 11-year-old
Training Day becomes coming-of-age day in LUV, a violent attempt at grafting two reliable genres together in one somewhat edgy picture.
Rapper-turned-actor Common has one of his best roles ever as Uncle Vincent, an ex-con still trying for that big score, that "legitimate" business that he'd love to start if only the bank would turn a blind eye to his past and gamble on his future.
"I'm gonna be my own boss," he brags to them.
They aren't buying it.
So he lives with his mom (Lonette McKee), dresses like the businessman he isn't, and drives a shiny Mercedes. And on occasion, he pitches in raising his sister's son, Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.), who idolizes him.
Dropping the 11-year-old off at school, Vincent sees how shy Woody is around girls, and decides that even at 11, the boy needs a different sort of schooling, a day of "what it takes to be a man."
He drags the kid around so Woody can Be Like Vincent, from a ridiculously quick trip to Vincent's tailor (not even kids can get a custom suit in an hour or so) to the deals his uncle makes to get by - increasingly violent deals with hoodlums both old school (Danny Glover, Dennis Haysbert, Charles S. Dutton) and new.
Vincent has useful advice: "Don't be looking down at your feet. The way you walk tells people everything they need to know about you." And the assorted players they run across approve of this sort of schooling - "Bring Little Barack with you."
Woody experiences his first crab-cracking (the story is set in Baltimore) and his first drink, and sees his first dead body. All that's for starters.
The cast is quite good, and director and cowriter Sheldon Candis does so well with those scenes, dominating LUV's first half, that it's surprising he has so much trouble introducing, bit by bit, Vincent's violent world to Woody. This is an R-rated drama without the weight to support that rating, more a PG-13 coming-of-age tale that needed to be watered down.
The absurd turns the story takes to serve up streetwise and bloody "life lessons" for the kid will make any parent blanch - "child endangerment" is in the MPAA rating. And those same over-the-top twists will make any movie lover roll his or her eyes.
LUV *1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Sheldon Candis. With Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Dennis Haysbert, Meagan Good, Lonette McKee. Distributed by Indomina.
Running time: 1 hour, 34 mins.
Parent's guide: R (violence, drugs, profanity, child endangerment)
Playing at: selected AMC theaters