Common Lawless: Common plays an uncle with mixed intentions for his nephew.
Common Lawless: Common plays an uncle with mixed intentions for his nephew.

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In Luv, an 11-year-old boy gets taught how to shoot a gun. By his uncle. And later, his uncle screams at him for not taking someone out when a deal goes bad.

And you thought it was naughty when the man made the boy skip school.

Welcome to Baltimore, or at least Baltimore according to first-time director/co-writer Sheldon Candis (who scripted the film with Justin Wilson). Reportedly semiautobiographical, Luv tells the story of ex-con Vincent (rapper Common), who now wears suits, helps take care of his nephew, Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.), and is trying to get a loan to open a crab shack. To do this he buys himself a clean history and takes Woody along with him when he meets with the bank manager. Woody’s mother left the boy and took up somewhere down South, and though apparently her whereabouts are known, everyone makes excuses when Woody asks if they can go visit her.

The film chronicles this day-in-a-life, from the time Woody shows his uncle the sketch he drew of Vincent as a superhero to Vincent’s increasingly desperate moves to get the money he needs to avoid defaulting on the property to, finally, a somewhat puzzling bloodbath. The problem with Luv is that, despite a wannabe rawness and attempt to reflect on the ramifications of a child being reared by a fractured, criminal family, it’s too puzzling too often, with Vincent visiting people—relatives? cohorts?—and talking inside-baseball about goings-on past and present as you try to keep the narrative straight. (Danny Glover and Dennis Haysbert co-star.)

Then the melodramatic finale gets truly ridiculous, with a kid who at the beginning of the film was too shy to talk to girls suddenly acting like a thug (and able to drive a Mercedes perfectly after one lesson). The acting, however, partially redeems Luv; Common slips between Vincent’s street and straight-and-narrow personalities easily, and Rainey, perhaps because he looks younger than Woody’s still-vulnerable 11 years, makes you want to take his character away from all the shadiness and just let him see his mama already. Ultimately, the story is about a bright-eyed child forced to grow up in the course of a day. But Candis, while promising, still has some growing to do himself.