Saturday, 22 March 2014

THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER AND PETE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - After-School Special with Balls

from American Idol to Dreamgirls to Weight Watchers to Junkie-Whore
Is there anything this girl can't do? It doesn't look like it.

Fo' a pimp I be fly!
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete (2013) Dir. George Tillman Jr. **1/2
Starring: Jennifer Hudson, Skylan Brooks, Ethan Dizon, Jordin Sparks, Anthony Mackie, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Review By Greg Klymkiw

If you see this movie, and you probably should, you're basically going to be getting a feature-length ABC Afterschool Special where people say "fuck" a lot (including kids) and where everyone's favourite Dreamgirls songstress Jennifer Hudson shoots smack, turns tricks and abandons her child. This alone might be enough to recommend it. The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete is one strange movie. Though much of it felt "been there, done that", there were enough surprising turns in the reasonably compelling story, a clutch of solid performances (great ones from the kids) and relatively smooth direction from the competent George Tillman Jr. In spite of its attempts to be tough-minded, though, the movie finally chickens out with more than enough improbable spoonfuls of sugar to make the medicine go down that it's hard to take it more seriously than the well-crafted trifle it ultimately is.

So, it's summer time and for inner city kids, the living sure ain't easy. Mister (Brooks) and Mom (Hudson) live in the projects. She's strung out on smack most of the time, but she's a good-hearted junkie-whore and takes in Pete (Dizon), the child of a colleague in the junkie-whore trade who's way more strung out than she is. Mister looks upon Pete as an annoying interloper and this surely gets our hero pretty hot and bothered. He doesn't want to hang out with this tiny Asian sissy pants and he sure doesn't want to share what infinitesimal bit of attention he gets from Mom through her glazed eyes.

You know, though, in movies - not so much in life - things have a way of turning around. It takes a bit of doing, but eventually the lads become friends - especially when their respective Mommas are rounded up in a drug raid and incarcerated. Mister and Pete do, however, have a major dilemma on their hands. If they're nabbed by the authorities, they'll wind up in a juvie detention home, fearing they'll be beaten up, corn-holed and/or killed. This, for me, seemed a fair thing to be afeared of. Besides, it allows the movie to move in on Kore-eda turf and pretend to be the 2004 masterpiece Nobody Knows.

I don't actually condemn the picture for this. Believe me when I say there are worse things a movie can pretend to be similar to. That said, someone like Kore-eda sets the bar for this kind of story pretty high, so it's a bit of a case of kinda close, but no cigar for Tillman's efforts. This is not to suggest the movie is a bad one, though. Non-discriminating fans of this type of story will get their fair share of entertainment value and those of the snobby, discriminating persuasion (I include myself here), will not find the experience overly objectionable.

In fact, the movie enjoyably alternates twixt harrowing and fun as the two kids fend for themselves during this section of the movie. There are also a few disturbing elements that add a bit of oomph to the proceedings, though it's a tiny bit disconcerting that the movie introduces, but doesn't really examine them in more satisfying narrative and/or thematically urgent ways.

Please, Sir. We want our Mommas!
One of the kids, it's discovered, has been suffering repeated sexual abuse, but the effects of this are conveniently brushed-off. There are also mixed messages delivered with the film's treatment of a South Asian store owner who responds angrily, though understandably to Mister's initial attitude and eventually resorts to beating the child publicly in the street. While we can't condone the store owner's actions here, there's perhaps a bit too much ambiguity displayed in the store owner's racist views as well as the film's (only slightly) submerged racist attitude towards the store owner.

Most horrendously, the character of a pimp (Anthony Mackie) is also fraught with similar flawed ambiguity. The guy is portrayed a bit too Jekyll-and-Hyde-like for comfort. One one hand, we see a nasty, violent, exploitative and dangerous piece of filth, on the the other he seems like a relatively intelligent and reasonable fella, but then he comes across as a coward who's not going to go the distance when and where it really counts.

If anything, the most egregious element at play is the pat fairytale summation of several story elements that have delivered a great deal of conflict, but upon being tied up ever-so neatly, none of them feel especially earned by the characters. The film's final third congeals into a treacle of feel-good (that some will no doubt welcome), but for me, the shoehorning of oh-so-happy bows and ribbons to placate the audience seems disingenuous to the characters, situations and yes, even the reality the film purports to reflect.

The film ultimately has many worthwhile elements to recommend it, but it does leave one with the overwhelming feeling that it was striving for a kind of greatness it might well have been able to achieve if it had placed far more courage in the convictions of telling this tale.

"The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete" is available on DVD via levelFilm and I recommend purchasing it if this kind of story is up your alley, but the extra features on the DVD alone offer considerable insight into how this film COULD have been great. Even the telling deleted scenes suggest a movie its makers considered far darker than what they wound up with. All this proves is that dampening darkness has resulted in a fencepost experience that didn't really do theatrical business anyway. When will filmmakers, studios, financiers and distributors realize that the best movies need to be true to their inherent ideals. They probably stand a better chance of acceptance into the theatrical marketplace, or at worst, they die on the vine, but attract a much wider, more discriminating (or in many cases, non-discriminating) audience in the home marketplace."