Director: George Tillman Jr.
Starring: Skylan Brooks, Ethan Dizon, Jennifer Hudson
I'm a big American Idol fan, have been for eleven seasons. Reality shows are the only television I watch, even though I appreciate that they're horrible. I use them as an escape, as a way to relax, to be completely entertained without having to put forth any effort. Some people do that with some movies, but I've never been able to. Instead I use American Idol. Now, I saw Jennifer Hudson perform and I also saw Jordin Sparks, both of whom appear in this film. They're not the reason I chose to watch this movie, but I can't lie, I saw their names and was intrigued. I was curious as to how they would do in such a heavy film, a story about struggling inner-city youth. Hudson won awards for her performance in Dreamgirls, although I happened to think that both she & that movie sucked. Anyway, Mister & Pete did turn out to be a heavy drama, one with a lot to say about growing up in the ghetto. Too bad it also featured some of the worst acting I've seen outside of movies that are intentionally awful.
Mister is a boy with a rough life. His grades are horrible, kids at school make fun of him, he's about the tiniest tween you'll ever see, and his mother is a drug addict & a prostitute. The little money she makes working the street corner goes toward her heroine habit and there's never enough money for food. Mister shops with his mom's welfare card, but when even that runs out of cash the family is left with nothing to eat and no hope for the future. Mister wants to be an actor, to move to Beverly Hills, to get away from his horrible mother, to start a new life, and an upcoming audition might just be his ticket. But first he has to get to the audition, which is two months away, and that's about to get a little more difficult.
The police raid Mister's apartment complex, searching the homes for any illegal activity. They find Mister's mom drugged out, with needles scattered across the table. And so they take her in, never knowing that there's a little boy hiding in the bedroom, avoiding a summer spent in a juvenile home. What's more, he's not alone. Mister is "babysitting" another local boy, a Korean kid named Pete whose mom also works the streets. So now the dynamic duo of Mister & Pete begin their independent life; buying groceries, avoiding the cops, trying to survive the heat of summer with no money and no hope. If only the boys can make it until the audition, the big break that Mister is sure to catch, then they'll be on their way up, leaving this hard world behind.
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete; quite a title, but one that basically tells you exactly what's going to happen. This is no fairy tale, no romantic visual of tough times bringing about great things. It's a gritty and depressing look at life in the slums, a realistic take on what children go through when their parents can't or won't give them what they need. The film did two things very well; representing this world & forcing audiences to feel it though sensory experiences. The story could have been over-dramatic quite easily, but stopped just short on a number of occasions. They kept the action & emotion real, showing us the situation and letting us understand how awful it was. And you could almost smell the desperation, the sweat of the boys, feel the heat of the apartment; not a fun way to spend 100 minutes but a very honest portrayal.
So the story and setting were both very strong, creating a mood that was hard to take but enjoyable to watch & appreciate. If only the acting had held up its end of the bargain. I guess I'm not surprised that both Jordin Sparks and Jennifer Hudson were fairly terrible. Sparks made it feel like a Disney movie every time she came on screen, while Hudson is too much for me to handle. But I was surprised by how bad Skylan Brooks was playing Mister. It was ironic that in the film he wanted to be an actor, because his actual acting was no good. However, he was often saved by Ethan Dizon who played Pete, by far the best actor in the entire film. He stood out as the only one who was really invested in every scene, coming off much stronger than the star of the film, the supporting characters, and definitely the small-part cameos.
And you could credit Dizon with saving the film for that matter, as his acting and character created the best part of the movie; the connection between Mister & Pete. Without that it would just have another sad ghetto movie but with some really bad acting. But with that relationship, the movie took off into the direction of a character drama set against an intense backdrop. The friendship that developed on camera between Mister & Pete was the highlight of the film, a ray of hope in a dangerous world, and the only thing that kept them both sane. It made the film watchable really, and gave it a depth that was desperately needed. There's a good story here if you care to take the time, a well-delivered plot that is decidedly impactful. But you have to sift through the bad acting and grab onto the Pete storyline in order to survive until the end.
Video: With an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the video of the film is excellent. It was shot using an Arri Alexa camera with Cooke S4 and Angenieux Optimo Lenses. The picture quality is very high, crisp & clean with no balancing or color issues. The scenes are almost too vivid, lending no added grit to the visuals. But it's an unfiltered look at the world, a raw & vivid picture that's hard to ignore.
Audio: The DVD was done in English 5.1 Dolby Digital. There is an option between English & Spanish subtitles in the Set Up menu. The audio quality of the film was without flaw, a clear sound that, again, let the emotion of the film speak for itself. The music of the film never made an impact or called for my attention, but it also wasn't distracting, which I appreciate.
Extras: There are quite a few extras on this disc. Commentary can be turned on to accompany the film, with director George Tillman Jr. and actors Skylan Brooks & Ethan Dizon. There is a music video by Alicia Keys called "Better You, Better Me" that is over four minutes long and features footage from the movie. There are ten deleted scenes with an option for commentary throughout and a Play All mode. You can go behind the scenes and watch 11 minutes of rehearsal to scene comparison, in which Brooks practices a shot and then we see the actual scene from the movie. There are two "Bootcamp" segments, research for the film, one on skateboard training and one on drug addiction. And lastly there are four trailers: Things Never Said, Free Angela, Temptation, and Precious.
Rent It. The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete is a hard film to watch. At times that's because of the subject matter and often that's because of the bad acting. But overall, thanks to Pete, I found myself enjoying the story. He and the plot were definitely the highlights, with the other actors in the film the low. So if you're someone who can forgive a little more than I can, then you might just find this a wonderful film. If you're harder than me, then I'd recommend staying away. The video & audio were both very strong and the DVD has a ton of extras. This is a film that I won't forget quickly, I'll give it that, but for both good & bad reasons.