Beware the writer/director/star filmmaker who imagines his character as irresistible catnip to the ladies. Call it the “Edward Burns Delusion,” because it’s a good rule of thumb, and a cautionary one worth taking into account if you’re writing yourself into your movie.
Justin Etheredge trips over that, and a few other things, in his sweet but uneven and not particularly graceful “Good,” his second feature, after 2016’s “Get Out the Way.”
As Payton Poitier (“No relation.”), he is an aimless no-real-prospects Atlantan who misses his grandma, has an ex desperate to talk to him, a higher-class fiancée” and eventually a third woman tempted to throw herself at him.
In Etheredge’s dreams, anyway.
“Good” is about the old man he meets at his late grandmother’s favorite diner.
“We all end up alone,” Gregory (the great Keith David) pontificates. “At least somebody loved you.”
Gregory a regular, as well. He’s also well put-together, plainly somebody who has some money. And he’s not buying the “grandma” spiel Payton dishes out.
“I’m an old man. Old men EAT at diners. YOU’RE the lonely bastard” in this conversation.
A lift home leads to the first abrupt plot shift. Gregory’s daughter (Nefetari Spencer) makes Payton an over-the-top offer to become her dad’s caregiver, almost on the spot. As he’s just lost his previous temp job, and he’s hoping to marry the upscale Shannon (Kali Racquel), sure, he’ll take it.
But those voice mails from his ex, Jeneta (Christen Sharice)? They’re about exactly what you’d figure they’re about. She’s pregnant.
“Good” is about a guy who claims he learned “how to be a man” from his grandmother avoiding his adult responsibilities and getting chewed out about it by a character played by Keith David, who specializes in Old Testament cussing outs.
“Another young BLACK man making babies he won’t raise,” Old Gregory fumes.
At least he cools off whenever they watch “In the Heat of the Night.”
“You DO look like your daddy,” the old man cracks. He’s forgetful, might even have forgotten “the kid” assured him he wasn’t one of “those” Poitiers.” Or maybe he’s just having some old man fun at the hapless younger man’s expense.
Etheredge the director and co-writer brings in plenty of complications — Payton’s shaky status and need to placate his spoiled, wealthier bride-to-be, his inability to shake off Jeneta’s insistence on having a baby she insists is his.
He’s not ready “to throw my whole life away because you decided to have a baby.”
And then there’s Gregory, his half-estranged daughter Barbara, who runs his development empire and has little use for the father who wasn’t the “Father” Gregory nags Payton to be.
However familiar its situations and obstacles, “Good” passes the time easily, with Etheredge having a little chemistry with his booming, blustering co-star. But their scenes, like virtually every story element in “Good,” feel unfinished, ready for another re-write. The humor doesn’t quite pop, the pathos is more a notion in the film’s prospectus than anything the co-writers (Nathan Allen is the other) were able to deliver.
The transitions are abrupt, starting from that first one I mentioned. “Health” issues are introduced by the entrance of a doctor who seems to run his practice out of an Atlanta hotel room (Not a house call, not a doctor’s office, must be the Marriott).
That makes “Good” more likeable than polished, more “almost” or “nice try” than “Good.”
Rating: unrated, lots of profanity, homophobic slurs
Cast: Justin Etheredge, Keith David, Nefetari Spencer, Kali Racquel and Christen Sharice
Credits: Directed by Justin Etheredge, script by Justin Etheredge and Nathan Allen. Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:20