Jamesy Boy: Film Review

True second-chance story doesn't come to life onscreen.

Trevor White enlists Mary-Louise Parker, Ving Rhames and James Woods to support Spencer Lofranco in a familiar troubled-kid story.

A true story of a young con who turned his life around, Trevor White's Jamesy Boy wants very much to be inspirational. But nothing the first-time helmer tries -- not casting big names in small parts, not scrambling the timeline, not casting a newcomer (Spencer Lofranco) whose swept-back coif recalls James Dean (even if nothing else about him does) -- can keep the tale from feeling like one cribbed from a score of other second-chance films. Commercial prospects are dim despite the marquee-worthy supporting cast.

Lofranco plays James Burns, a troubled kid who at 14 has gotten into so much trouble his school doesn't even want him around. Despite the encouragement of his working-class mom (Mary-Louise Parker, trying to bring earthy determination to a barely there character), James falls in with a crew of thieves; as flash-forward opening scenes make clear, this path leads quickly from juvie to big-boy prison.

The film jumbles prison hardship and the crimes leading up to it for reasons that are never apparent. Possibly, White and editor Josh Noyes hoped that frequent scenes of James having to fend off hardened inmates would help sell flashback scenes, in which Lofranco is barely credible as a kid so cut out for crime he immediately wins the trust of gang leader Roc (Michael Trotter) and catches the eye of bad girl Chrystal (Rosa Salazar). Cookie-cutter dialogue doesn't help sell James's descent into crime: "I got brains, plus I can hustle," James says when asking for a job; Roc replies, "We do this, you'll be my bitch, nonnegotiable."

The picture comes closest to earning our sympathy when James is with Sarah (Taissa Farmiga), a good girl who encourages his dreams of escaping their dead-end town. But since we already know he'll make all the wrong decisions, many of them dumb even by thug-life standards, this subplot is a preordained failure.

In the joint, Ving Rhames maintains a surprising amount of dignity while playing one of the jailhouse genre's biggest cliches: the murderer everyone knows not to mess with, who spends his days buried in books and responds to friendly gestures with "Shut up," "Don't talk to me," and "I don't wanna be friends, guppy."

Naturally, Rhames's Conrad winds up encouraging James' nascent interest in poetry. Further opportunity for redemption comes as James stands up for a meek newbie (Ben Rosenfield) even when it puts him at odds with the jail's hardened warden (James Woods). Every word of the story may be true, and if it happened to someone you knew, you'd be captivated. In Jamesy Boy, though, it's hard to see why we should care.

Production Company: Synergics Films, Star Thrower Entertainment

Cast: Spencer Lofranco, Mary-Louise Parker, Ving Rhames, James Woods, Taissa Farmiga, Rosa Salazar, Michael Trotter

Director: Trevor White

Screenwriter: Lane Shadgett, Trevor White

Producers: Tim White, Wayne L. Rogers, Steve Saeta, Maria Norman, Galen Walker, Scott Mednick

Executive producers: Bonnie Timmermann

Director of photography: Robert Lam

Production designer: Rachel Block

Music: Jermaine Stegall

Costume designer: Olivia Miles

Editor: Josh Noyes

No rating, 109 minutes