A few moments in writer-director Christina Cooper’s Los Angeles-set love story feel transcendent: its engaging opening minutes, a color-saturated party scene and a poetic montage about a budding romance. These well-lit, well-shot bits might anchor the indie “South Central Love” for a brief time, but they ultimately feel pulled from a more well-realized film. What surrounds them is largely trite and artificial, a morality play with little depth in the creation of its characters.
Davonte (Jamal Henderson) and Bria (Cooper) fall fast and hard for each other — so fast, in fact, that their first declaration of love might feel abrupt even for an audience familiar with young romances onscreen. But the dangers of his South Central neighborhood threaten to come between them, with her family thinking she can do better while violence begins to engulf Davonte’s entire world despite his efforts to escape.
We’ve seen story at the heart of “South Central Love” before; but as the young man from the wrong side of the tracks, Henderson makes for a charming lead. Cooper’s script is at its best in its quieter moments; the dialogue between characters feels more like lectures at the audience about the evils of gangs and prostitution than real conversation. “South Central Love” tries to deal with heavy issues with grace, but its clumsiness undercuts its message.
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Playing: Ahrya Fine Arts by Laemmle, Beverly Hills; Cinemark Baldwin Hills, Los Angeles; Downtown Independent, Los Angeles