Movie Review: There’s no cachet to being “Morris from America”

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Morris Gentry is 13, can’t dance or play basketball and is just too young to make being the only black American kid in Heidelberg, Germany, work for him.

“Morris from America” is a puzzle to his classmates, whose language he barely speaks and who see nothing but a stereotype sitting on the playground,  hiding behind his ear-buds — “Hey, Kobe Bryant!”

His tutor (Carla Juri) sees the “charming” kid underneath the tough guise he’d like to wear.

“Forget charming, I’m a gangsta!”

“Because? ‘Gangstas drink hot chocolate, with one marshmallow?”

“That’s TOTALLY gangsta!”

morris2Soccer coach Dad (Craig Robinson) respects the music, won’t listen to warnings from others that the kid’s attempts at lyrics are profane and misogynistic, and understands the loneliness.

“We’re the only two Brothers in Heidelberg. We’ve got to be on the same team!”

“Morris From America” is a slight, sweet and somewhat unconventional coming-of-age dramedy from the director of “This is Martin Bonner.” It rarely surprises, but it leans on some winning performances to make even the weariest moments of adolescence pay off.

Morris, played by newcomer Markees Christmas without a trace of guile, crushes on a 15 year-old fraulein (Lina Keller), all sunglasses and cigarettes, long curly hair and short skirts. She’ll use him to annoy her shocked mom, invite him to raves as a novelty, treat him as an adult when neither one of them is.

And Morris, like millennia of young men before him, will fall for that.

There’s a wonderful rapport between Robinson (TV’s “The Office,” “Hot Tub Time Machine”) and Christmas, an informal and sometimes profane banter that would be at home in much of African America, but feels like their own secret language in Deutschland.

“You got no taste in music!” “You can’t grind me with that!”

“First you get the high-top fade, THEN you get the girl!”

Christmas is very natural on camera, and easily gets across a kid who has to realize “This isn’t Richmond any more,” trapped in a world of racists and racial profilers — adults and kids — all twisted up in their techno/electro-swing music, dying to spit out some rhymes and stir things up.

As with “Martin Bonner,” writer-director Chad Hartigan is content to set a somber tone, reach for sensitive moments and reveal his characters’ secrets in tiny doses. Robinson lets us see the out-of-his-depth loneliness the father feels and transmits to his son.

The novelty of the setting and the situations wears thin after a bit, but “Morris From America” has a warmth and wit will stick with you, rather like that Dampfnudel you ordered for dessert — just unusual enough to be memorable, just sweet enough to be a pleasant memory.

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MPAA Rating:R for teen drug use and partying, sexual material, brief nudity, and language throughout

Cast: Craig Robinson, Markees Christmas, Carla Juri, Lina Keller
Credits: Written and directed by Chad Hartigan. An A-24 release.

Running time: 1:31

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