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Review: ‘True to the Game’ is true to Teri Woods’ novel but lacks the game to back it up

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In a perfect world, a movie version of Teri Woods’ novel “True to the Game” would be a bigger deal. Woods’ pulp thriller has reportedly sold more than 2 million copies since the ’90s and pioneered a new literary form: a cross between gangster melodrama, glamorous romance and hip-hop-scored slice-of-life.

Erica Peeples is Gena, a college student who becomes romantically entangled with well-meaning drug lord Quadir (Columbus Short). The episodic plot borders on the scattered, as Gena and Quadir and their various friends, family members and associates get in each other’s way.

“True to the Game” director Preston A. Whitmore II and screenwriter Nia Hill don’t have a big enough budget to give this story the scale it needs; and aside from veteran actress Vivica A. Fox, the cast is nowhere near accomplished enough to bring a bestseller to life. The movie relies a lot on flatly staged shootouts and narrative contrivances, coupled with trite tough-guy poses.

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That said, Whitmore and Hill do their best to keep the book’s fine detail, allowing the characters to talk at length about their dreams, their faith and their loved ones, in nightclubs and apartments that look lived-in. The movie has enough of Woods’ flavor to put a memorable spin on a familiar genre — so much so that it’s almost a crime it isn’t better.

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‘True to the Game’

Rating: R, for violence, drug content, sexuality and nudity, and pervasive language

Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

Playing: Edwards South Gate; Edwards West Covina

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