"My Brother," a contemporary melodrama starring Vanessa Williams and Nashawn Kearse, suffers the same fate as so many of its well-intentioned brethren in the message-movie community: What it possesses in heart and goodwill, it sorely lacks in narrative skill and artistic depth.
Williams stars as the single mother of two grown sons, Isaiah (Kearse) and James (Christopher Scott). In a series of flashbacks -- sometimes within other flashbacks -- we find out how Isaiah and James have come to rely on each other and how Isaiah has tried to make quick cash by getting involved in a shadowy scheme. But what starts as a taut urban crime drama quickly sags into lurid after-school-special sentimentality.
A nascent romance between James and a translator played by Tatum O'Neal goes nowhere; writer-director Anthony Lover seems to have thrown it in because O'Neal said yes. Williams and Kearse, both recent TV smashes (in "Ugly Betty" and "Desperate Housewives," respectively) give it their best, and Scott, who has Down syndrome (as does Donovan Jennings, who plays him as a child), is terrific. With luck we'll see them all soon, in better things to come.
-- Ann Hornaday
My Brother PG-13, 104 minutes Contains violence, disturbing images and profanity. At AMC Magic Johnson Capital Centre and AMC Hoffman Center.