Press notes claim Brooks appears in 157 scenes in the film. While no number is included for Dizon it’s got to be over 100. They’re both so good that I say — Why wait? Book theaters now for them to appear in about half a century in “The Sunshine Boys.”
I don’t mean to sound frivolous or lighthearted about an indie film that is anything but. “Inevitable Defeat” is one of those social-issue projects like “Precious” that attract genuine stars to produce or appear — Jennifer Hudson takes a small role while Alicia Keys co-wrote the music and exec produces — and wins awards from critics, who unfortunately may make up a large share of the audience.
But Brooks and Dizon definitely make this tough-cookie movie that much sweeter and easier to digest by their astute, on-the-money performances. While there are few light moments as such, the young actors do lighten the scenes by keeping things rigorously honest without corn, cliches or cuteness.
Michael Starrbury’s screenplay stays at an even keel without manufacturing outlandish plot turns or melodrama that could turn the film into the adventures of urban Tom Sawyers. The point of view is entirely theirs so you see the world and its shifty older characters entirely through their eyes.
Brooks’ Mister — that’s his name and not a form of address — is older than his years, having grown up fatherless with a junkie-whore for a mother. (This is Hudson in a memorable, soul-searing albeit brief performance.) When police arrest her, Mister hides with Dizon’s Pete, a younger Korean-American kid his mom is “baby-sitting.”
Despite similar backgrounds, the boys couldn’t be further apart. Mister is angry and combative, a chip always on his shoulder. He is more parent than son to his wayward mother. As a result he has an overdeveloped sense of his own abilities and intensely dislikes getting help from anyone.
Pete is mostly sweet-minded and docile. He looks up to the older boy whom he considers a friend although Mister probably doesn’t share that viewpoint. He speaks in formal complete sentences, never the street slang and profanity that issues from Mister’ mouth. Every now and then asks for “privacy, please.”
In other words, Pete holds his emotions inside while Mister displays his all too openly.
A sultry, humid summer is upon the kids when their mothers go missing so they must hide out in Mister’s cramped apartment without air-conditioning and eventually electricity, all the while avoiding cops and Child Protective Services.
Mister’s attitude, based on an entirely logical distrust of adults, is to reject all help in order to stay self-sufficient. He scrounges for food — or simply steals it — while dealing with local vultures whether these be panhandlers, crazies or gangsters.
So the episodic film puts the two in harm’s way often. Sometimes help can appear only to be rejected. For Mister has an ace up his sleeve: He’s going to an audition for child actors and knows he’ll win a big role. By August he should be in Beverly Hills filming. Pete asks if he might come along.
In what little spare time he has, Mister studies acting and has learned the lines from favorite films such as “Trading Places” and, of all things, “Fargo.” Indeed this preparation helps him deliver a convincing speech to a supermarket employee that earns the boys groceries.
So he is indeed becoming a good actor. Life is certainly teaching him how to dissemble. As for Beverly Hills, well …
Tillman (“Soul Food,” “Men of Honor”) gets not just terrific performances from his two very young stars but solid supporting jobs from veterans Anthony Mackie (as a gangster), Jeffrey Wright (as a homeless vet), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (as a grim-looking cop) and Ken Maharaj (as an aggrieved shopkeeper).
Julito McCullum is more than believable as Mister’s most immediate nemesis while “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks makes the most of a small part as a young woman who has moved out of the project but still misses characters like Mister and Pete.
You can understand why.
Opens: October 11, 2013 (Lionsgate)
Production companies: Codeblack and Lionsgate present an iDeal Partners/State Street production in association with Floren Shieh Prods., Archer Gray Prods., Cherry Sky Films, AKW Prods.
Cast: Skylan Brooks, Ethan Dizon, Jennifer Hudson, Anthony Mackie, Jordin Sparks, Jeffrey Wright, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ken Maharaj
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Screenwriter: Michael Starrbury
Producers: Jana Edelbaum, Rachel Cohen, George Tillman., Robert Teitel
Executive producers: Alicia Keys, Susan Lewis, Aim Shieh, Clay Floren, Amy Nauiokas, Julio DePietro, Keith Kjarval, Mary Vernieu, Joan Huang, Jacob Pechenik
Director of photography: Reed Morano
Production designer: Jane Musky
Music: Alicia Keys, Mark Isham
Costume designer: Charlese Antoinette Jones
Editor: Jamie Kirkpatrick
R rating, 108 minutes