Review: LUV, An Almost Likable Movie About Unshackling the Past

While watching LUV, I kept thinking about a painfully true line of dialogue in Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia. The quote, which is a premonition for every character in the film, is this: "We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us." Some of our poor choices never escape us.

This is the motif of LUV, starring Common as Uncle Vincent, a man who's plagued by the half-baked decisions he's made in his life and has spent the last eight years in jail as a result. We learn early on that he's fresh out of jail, on parole, and desperately wants to better himself. He used to be quick on the trigger; now he just wants to be a straight shooter. He's a former gangster who wants to put his old ways far, far behind him.

Living with his mother and nephew Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.) -- who misses his own mother very dearly -- he sets out to get a bank loan so he can start up a restaurant, bringing all the locals together for food, fun, and friendship. His ambitious dream is put on hold when he learns that he needs to pay off a previous debt in order to get the loan he needs to make the eatery a reality. This prompts him to go back to his hood life roots to make some quick money. As has been said, 'You can take the thug out of the hood, but you can't take the hood out of the thug.'

He brings Woody along for the ride to teach him "real world shit" and how to be a man. And he expects Woody to learn all this rough and tough gangster-cowboy hoopla in one day. That's a lot for a kid who's only threatening weapon is a squirt gun. Vincent can sling all the words on how to be a real man, but he's still hood rich. He dresses like a million dollars and drives around in a Benz he can't afford, and still lives with his mother, who he needs to co-sign for his bank loan. The thug life teaches one how to be street smart, kill a man, sell drugs, drink 40s, and gracefully hop fences that would make an Olympic hurdler jealous, but it never teaches how to make an honest living.

This is where LUV starts to nose dive. On the outside, it's supposed to be about how boy becomes man by way of a solid bonding experience with his uncle. But what we see is a selfish man-child who takes his only nephew around town to face off with trigger happy thugs and help him do drug runs for a quick buck. It quickly shifts from that heartfelt bonding story to a hollow tale of greed. The delivery of emotional punches is stunted by the lack of understanding for Vincent's motives towards Woody. It's unclear if he's trying to show Woody why the hood life is no way to go, or share his own misery because he has no one else. As a grown man, Vincent should know a child who has been shielded from violence his whole life doesn't know the first thing about dope-slinging or gang-banging. Since we don't know Vincent and Woody's relationship prior to this day, his sudden aggressiveness towards his nephew throws the movie's tone completely off balance. Their seemingly well-balanced relationship becomes out-of-sync. It's very unbecoming as it unfolds.

Common got his start and is mostly known as a hip hop artist, but caught the acting bug in 2006 with Joe Carnahan's kick-ass shoot 'em up Smokin' Aces. As an actor, he speaks well, can be intimidating when he wants to, and unmistakably personifies the characters he's supposed to be playing. It's a damned shame his talents are marred here by an inferior script.

Two alumni from The Wire show up and are criminally underused: Michael "Omar Little" K. Williams and Anwan "Slim Charles" Glover. Blink and you will miss them. Danny Glover also has a small part as the brother of the town's top gangster. He doesn't do much, and that's probably because he's too old for this shit (zing!).

LUV suggests being a self-discovery story about a man who can't seem to move forward without the past catching up to him, and possibly a story of redemption, even. But as Vincent starts to exhaust where his life's heading, we begin to feel that fatigue just watching it play out. It's hard to love LUV, or even like it.

LUV opens in limited theatrical release in the U.S. on Friday, January 18. Check the official site for more information.

(Follow Chase Whale on Twitter.)

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