LUV

Critic rating:
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MPAA rating: R
Genre: Drama
A little boy accompanies his recently paroled uncle for a day in this increasingly preposterous drama.
Starring: Common, Michael Rainey, Jr., Charles S. Dutton, Meagan Good, Lonette McKee, Michael K. Williams, Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover
Director: Sheldon Candis
Running time: 1:35
Release: Opened Jan 18, 2013
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Editorial Review

Home-schooling gone wrong
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, January 18, 2013

Take Your Child to Work Day should not be universally observed. For example, a recently paroled member of society whose daily grind involves guns, drugs, dodgy “co-workers” and fistfights ought to consider celebrating Leave Your Kid at School Day instead.

Writer-director Sheldon Candis provides a roadmap of why that should be the case with “LUV,” a sometimes taut and occasionally preposterous day in the life of an 11-year-old accompanying his uncle on business in Baltimore.

Vincent (played by Common) has just left prison and moved back in with his mom and nephew Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.), a youngster pining away for his absent mother even as he idolizes his uncle. As Vincent drops the boy off at school one day, the revelation that Woody is too shy to “holla” at a group of young girls leads the ex-con to the conclusion that Woody needs to learn a thing or two about the real world. Mere minutes earlier, Vincent was ensuring that his nephew had finished his homework, so this could be considered dubious plot point number one. The next stop is the tailor, where Vincent miraculously acquires a same-day bespoke suit for the boy.

What follows is a string of effectively tension-building incidents -- if you manage to take reason out of the equation. Vincent has been released from prison earlier than expected, and his old boss, Fish (Dennis Haysbert in a role that may make viewers feel less secure about Allstate), has grown suspicious. Did Vincent throw his old cohorts under the bus for an early parole? Despite warnings that the volatile crime boss is on edge, he seeks out the less-than-affable Fish about an investment in Vincent’s new crab shack business. Fish might be interested, but first Vincent needs to do a job for him.

This seems like a very bad idea. But agreeing to it and bringing a child along veers sharply into outlandish territory, and not simply because Vincent’s next move is to teach Woody how to drive.

It’s a shame that the plot proves to be such a head-scratcher when so many elements of the film seem promising. There’s an interesting dichotomy with Vincent; he’s a dapper man who takes pride in his polished appearance even as so much ugly turmoil roils beneath the surface of his charming facade. Meanwhile, Rainey Jr. is a talented young actor who handily portrays the lonely orphan in search of a parental figure. If only it were possible to erase the persistent, farcical image of him alone behind the wheel of a car.

As the movie unfolds there are some truly nail-biting moments, and Candis does an impressive job creating moody, claustrophobic scenes, especially one in which Vincent attempts a risky drug deal. At that point, the audience can almost forget how perfectly absurd it is that the ex-con not only has brought an 11-year-old along, but also pretends that the little boy is in charge.

Contains strong language, violence and drug use.