Urban, indie drama 'LUV' boasts exceptional cast

Rating: ★★

LUV , an urban, indie drama and coming-of-age tale, takes moviegoers to the mean streets of Baltimore.

Eleven-year-old Woody Watson lives with his grandmother in suburban Baltimore. Woody’s drug-addict mother is in rehab. His father is nowhere in sight. In dreams, Woody sees himself and his mother together in a peaceful patch of woods somewhere.

Real-time Baltimore contrasts dramatically to Woody’s dream. The city is in the midst of a vicious drug war. Bodies are piling up fast. But Woody, just a youngster, seems safe enough in the loving care of his grandmother.

Rapper-actor Common plays Woody’s uncle, Vincent. Following eight years in prison, Vincent comes home to his mother’s house. At the breakfast table, his mother, played by Lonette McKee, thanks God for bringing her son home. Woody asks God to bring his mother home, too. His heartfelt request inspires a soulful look from Uncle Vincent.

“Baby,” Woody’s sympathetic grandmother says, “your mother loves you. She’s just down in North Carolina trying to work some stuff out.”

LUV , the feature film debut from Sheldon Candis, gets a lot of headway from its exceptional cast. Up front there’s the movie’s two leading men, Common and young Michael Rainey Jr. as Woody.

Common, a Grammy-winning musician whose acting activities include the popular AMC series, Hell on Wheels, and the recent film, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, assumes the part of Vincent with ease. He’s naturally charming when the story calls for it and just as easily alarming when the script takes dangerous curves.

LUV has another major asset in Rainey, an 11-year-old actor whose many credits include Sesame Street, Law and Order, TV commercials and film. Rainey, even when the movie’s script strains credibility, is never less than believable. And he and Common have a natural rapport, something essential for this story.

The film’s supporting roles are filled by well-known actors doing their good work. Dennis Haysbert from 24 plays Baltimore crime lord Mr. Fish. Danny Glover co-stars as Mr. Fish’s brother, Arthur, an earnest mediator between the domineering Fish and volatile Vincent.

In the Baltimore-set LUV , two veterans of the Baltimore-situated HBO series, The Wire, Meagan Good and, playing a cop rather than a thug, Michael Kenneth Williams (as Det. Holloway), return to the city on the harbor. And Charles S. Dutton shows up as Vincent’s friend, Cofield.

LUV , co-written by Candis and Justin Wilson, builds its basically 24 hours of events on the concept of a day in the life of Woody and his thug uncle. Along with its fine cast, the movie has good production values, as good as, for instance, an HBO series. But Wilson and Candis’ script takes some difficult to accept leaps of logic and probability, which undermines the film’s emotional payoff.

LUV ’s story doesn’t flow as naturally as the performances. In the end, those performances give the movie its best shot.