The conventions of the “fresh out of prison” drama are long-established. But they’re recycled, to good effect, in “Chapter & Verse,” a well-acted genre picture that suffers only from a chronic inability to surprise.
Writer-star Daniel Beaty lays out the benchmarks of such films, plain and true.
Ingram (Beaty) is back on the streets of Harlem, mistrusted by his “You back on drugs?” probation officer, unable to find the work that prison trained him for — computer repair.
Job interviews reveal the limitations of the skill set Green Haven penitentiary gave him. Even the jargon of online start-ups has a speaking-in-tongues unfamiliarity.
“You know, walk me through it once and I’m good.”
He’s forced to take a job at a meals-on-wheels charity, where having no license means he must haul this stuff onto subways and through the mean streets that made him.
Temptation is all around, even from his pre-prison best friend (Omari Hardwick of TV’s “Power”), a former gang member now running his own barber shop.
And then there are the clients. The great Loretta Devine is the grandmother whose life Ingram finds himself drawn to thanks to her outgoing personality and her frank admission that the grandson she’s raising (Khadim Diop) is hanging with the wrong kids and about to go wrong the same way Ingram once did.
Filmmaker Jamal Joseph, working from Beaty’s script, follows both Ingram’s progression back into the straight world and Ty, the teen’s descent into gangland. Robberies and other violence are committed on dares. In one memorable moment, the kids practice shooting from a rooftop, heedless punks hurling bullets into the city’s void without a single thought about who or what might get hit.
Devine plays a heartfelt cliche, the “old school” but still young-ish grandma who barks, “You pull up’em pants You gone’show me your butt, I’m gonna smack it!”
And the rest of the film suits that approach. Yeah, there’s an inappropriate sexual come-on that plays as blackmail. Yes, there are moments of truth between reluctant father-figure and reluctant teen-in-need-of-a-father.
But the sleepy-eyed Beaty brings a gritty authenticity to Ingram, a tough guy made timid by the fear that one slip-up and he’s back in prison.
It’s no “Straight Time” or “Johnny Handsome” — no ground-breaking entry in the ex-con genre. Casting around the edges is weak enough to be jarring. But even as “Chapter & Verse” repeats an over-familiar story arc chapter and verse, it finds a little screen redemption in being ever-so-thoughtful as it repeats its well-worn story of redemption.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with profanity, adult situations, violence
Cast: Daniel Beaty, Loretta Devine, Omari Hardwick, Khadim Diop
Credits:Directed by Jamal Joseph, script by Daniel Beaty and Jamal Joseph. A Bubble Factory/Harlem Film Co. release.
Running time: 1:38