Michael Ealy and Lynn collins in "Unconditional." (Harbinger Media Partners,…)
In "Unconditional," the inspirational tale of a chance, life-altering reunion between grade school friends Samantha "Sam" Crawford (Lynn Collins), a children's author haunted by her husband's senseless murder, and Joe Bradford (Michael Ealy), a kind of Pied Piper of the housing projects, writer-director-editor Brent McCorkle works so hard at being authentic that the results often prove anything but.
The filmmaker is clearly well-intended but, along with a rather knee-jerk portrayal of race and racism, his on-the-nose script can't escape the "white savior" trap as the better-off Sam brings light and largesse (she has a horse!) to "Papa Joe's" needy, lockstep-cheerful kids. Joe also recounts three separate times Sam "saved his life" — she's that amazing.
McCorkle also piles on the pain. There's Sam's abortive suicide attempt and agonizing writer's block; Joe's failing kidneys, unfair prison sentence, poverty and fatherlessness (he's inspired by a real person, but even so); a child's traumatic mutism, a caregiver's alcoholism and more.
An over-illustrative use of flashbacks is another misstep as is a contrived red herring involving Sam's husband's killer. Platitudes about love and God abound as well.
On the upside, Collins, Ealy and young Kwesi Boakye give all to their beatific roles plus there's some stirring cinematography. If only McCorkle had a bit more, er, faith in his audience.
"Unconditional." MPAA rating: PG-13 for some violent content and mature thematic elements. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. In general release.