“The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete” is a rough-around-the-edges tale of children growing up on the mean streets of the wrong side of Brooklyn. It’s a coming-of-age story of a self-absorbed, downtrodden punk with a dream who learns about the love that comes with responsibility.
“Mister” Winfield (Skylan Brooks) is a movie buff and a skateboarder, but not an easy kid to like. Sullen, foul-mouthed and scrawny, he must be the smallest kid in his class. He’s just failed eighth grade, and his response is to lash out at the one caring teacher who gave him the deciding F.
Mister has issues. And he’s got real problems. That graffiti scrawled on the bathroom wall — “For a gud time, call Misters Mom”? It’s accurate. She (Jennifer Hudson) is a junkie and a hooker who can’t keep him fed, spending her hustled money on drugs, tattoos and clothes.
She shoots up right in front of him, and right in front of Pete (Ethan Dizon), the son of a fellow hooker whom she’s babysitting. Mister doesn’t care for Pete, feuds with the local Pakistani mini-mart owner and scowls in hatred at mom’s pimp, played by Anthony Mackie in a Mohawk and King Nebuchadnezzar beard.
When mom is busted, Mister resolves to keep himself and Pete fed and afloat until she gets out. Then, he’ll go to a kid-actor casting call where fame, fortune and Beverly Hills are his for the taking.
“We can’t tell anybody,” he says. “We’re on our own.”
Director George Tillman Jr. (“Notorious,” “Soul Food”) and screenwriter Michael Starrbury hurl every temptation and impediment in these kids’ paths that you can think of — petty theft and illness, burglary and starvation. The story staggers from bleakness to bleakness as Mister struggles to keep both of them out of the dreaded children’s detention center.
The best scenes feature young Brooks (a TV regular, and he was in “Our Family Wedding”) swapping bitter lines with the Oscar winner, Hudson, or Mackie or Jeffrey Wright, playing a panhandler the kid also feuds with. Jordin Sparks plays a character set up as some sort of guardian angel who pops up, from time to time, to rescue Mister.
It’s a film as untidy as its title — with slow transitions separating the winning moments of tension, drama or just kids being kids. Brooks, whose character memorizes lines from “Trading Places” and “Fargo,” has more to play and is a far better actor than young Dizon, and that imbalance works against the film.
But as “inevitable” as this tale of woe sometimes feels, there’s just enough novelty in the script to let us see what all these very good supporting players saw in it. And that makes us root against the “Defeat of Mister & Pete,” which is all this modest film asks for.
THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER & PETE
Cast: Skylan Brooks, Ethan Dizon, Jennifer Hudson, Jeffrey Wright, Anthony Mackie, Jordin Sparks
Directed by George Tillman Jr., written by Michael Starrbury. A Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:46
MPAA rating: R for language, some drug use and sexual content