A scene from the movie "Luv." (Handout )
What begins as a promising peek into the tragic cycle of waylaid promise that's crippling broken inner-city families is itself dispiritingly pulled sideways in the Baltimore-set indie "LUV."
When temporarily mom-less 11-year-old Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.) spends a day with his recently paroled Uncle Vincent (Common) as he tries to get a loan to set up his own business, the uncle's notions of manhood by example become distorted as his criminal past quickly intervenes.
The problem is that co-writer-director Sheldon Candis' all-in-a-day construct -- the leap from a cheery morning visit to the bank to Woody being enlisted in a role-playing confrontation with gang members that night -- is hard to swallow.
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Rainey and Common are good enough in quieter moments exploring the queasy ground between an ex-con's edgy humiliation and a boy's desire for a father figure. But the clichéd scenes of explosive violence – a far cry from how "The Wire" handled the nexus between children and gang life -- do little to strengthen the movie's themes.
Where the writing fails, though, Candis' work with actors, including stalwarts Charles S. Dutton, Danny Glover and a subtly menacing Dennis Haysbert, is solid. And young Rainey has a heartbreaking moment of physical shakiness after the first violent showdown that only makes the trite machinations of the rest of the movie that much more regrettable.
"LUV." MPAA rating: R for violence, language, child endangerment and some drug content. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. At selected theaters.