Primo gets emotional about his kids. Bald and charismatic, a big, cuddly bear of a man with a Persian Empire beard and a vast collection of tattoos, he dotes on his autistic son, his little girl and his wife.
And he’s ready to take young John into his extended family. The teen lost his dad. Primo knew him. And he’s more than ready to step up.
“I owe it to your Pops…I’m gon’ do for you what he did for me.”
But Primo is a gang leader, a New York “Blood” since childhood. And John, who might be a good kid if his now-single Mom has anything to say about it, is vulnerable to the dangerous but effort-free paydays that Primo’s promising, the protection that just being in his orbit offers.
Primo, played by real-life gang member James “Primo” Grant, had the brand on his shoulder — five star marks. He’s a five-star general in this world. Is John, a kid in braces and his first real girlfriend, ready for this?
Keith Miller’s “Five Star” has the intimacy of a conversation overheard, the authentiticy of street lives as they’re lived. This isn’t heightened Hollywood melodrama. It’s a depiction of a life that shows its attraction to new recruits.
Because Primo is a man always in control. He’s 30ish, with the confidence of a big man that makes him an in-demand bouncer and body guard.
But Primo has another line of work. And as down low as he plays it, sooner or later John’s going to see that side of him.
Miller stages Primo’s opening monologue — delivered to an unseen passenger in his car — with pathos and compassion, a big sensitive man explaining his feelings in street argot, most lines punctuated with “You feelin’ me?” or “You know what I’m sayin’?”
Even when he raises his voice to an underling who owes him money, he apologizes. “That was very rude of me.”
He still beats the man, and his lieutenants finish the punishment.
John (John Diaz) takes this all in. He sees how people treat Primo. This is “A Bronx Tale” with the Italian Americans of the ’50s replaced by African Americans and Latinos. John is absorbing Primo’s life lessons.
“People are negative…The streets are tough. The streets are evil.”
John’s mom is in the dark, figuring all she has to worry about is her son getting somebody pregnant.
“I did NOT raise you to be a player!”
“Five Star” is too brief to get deep into these lives, and truth be told — Primo and the others here are more instinctual than deep. But he is sage enough to know that if John does screw up and gets killed, it won’t even make the news.
John wonders how his father died, and no one can tell him. He’s taking up a line of work that doesn’t forgive even the smallest mistake.
“This out here, this ain’t no joke, man.”
Is he in over his head? You bet.
That’s the tension and the charm of “Five Star,” an intimate portrait, a slice-of-life that goes just far enough beyond the cliches to be fascinating.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with violence, profanity, drug-trade discussions
Cast: James “Primo” Grant, John Diaz, Wanda Nobles Colon, Jasmine Burgos
Credits: Written and directed by Keith Miller. An XLRator Media release.
Running time: 1:23