The day starts out promising enough for Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.), a sweet-faced 11-year-old who lives with his grandmother in Baltimore, and whose ex-con uncle, Vincent (Common), is eager to stand up for a nephew who’s been abandoned by troubled parents. Instead of dropping the boy off at school, however, Vincent impulsively drives him around town, instructing him on the finer points of manhood in between shady meetings with smooth-talking frenemies. By nightfall, Woody will have learned to fire a gun, drive a car, drink a beer, commit bank fraud, orchestrate multiple drug deals and mentally accommodate no fewer than five murders. It’s less coming of age than a total adolescent apocalypse—Training Day meets Time Bandits.
Lord knows there aren’t nearly enough movies about the African-American male experience, and on that front, writer-director Sheldon Candis’s drama has its heart in the right place. LUV exposes how institutional barriers encourage alternate economies of criminality and dwells on the mutual needs of its leads, with Woody eager for shepherding and Vincent desperate to be worthy of the task. But the film’s bid for ripped-from-the-headlines realism (Wire-cast cameos abound) is quickly sunk in a sea of incidental overkill, and eventually spills into sensationalistic fantasy. With its rock-skimming male bonding alternating between grisly homicides and a florid Mexican standoff that begets a tidy take-the-money-and-run finale, this tale seems less timely than merely tall.
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