Review: ‘Jamesy Boy,’ an inside-the-pen drama, a bit too predictable


The core of “Jamesy Boy” — a juvenile delinquent’s inside-the-pen coming of age — follows a too-familiar trajectory: Due to the toxic mix of broken family and corruptive friends, James Burns (Spencer Lofranco) has already earned a tracking device on his ankle and an impressive rap sheet boasting robbery, vandalism, assault and firearm possession.

Fresh-faced and all tatted up, James acts out as if emulous of the rapper MGK. Instead of being scared straight, he thrives in jail and fights anyone who gets in his way or menaces the defenseless Chris (Ben Rosenfield). That is, until world-weary lifer Conrad (Ving Rhames) shows James that inner strength is also a form of power.

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The film skirts after-school-special territory, in part with parallel time lines that seamlessly juxtapose James’ ascent as a small-time dealer of drugs and guns with his maturation behind bars. Still, the screenplay by Lane Shadgett and director Trevor White relies far too much on telling rather than showing. Newcomer Lofranco deserves credit for carrying the film. He holds his own against vets such as Rhames, Mary-Louise Parker (as James’ mother) and James Woods (as the warden), and he delivers in the climactic scene before the parole committee.

“Jamesy Boy.” MPAA rating: none. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes. At Arena Cinema, Hollywood. Also on VOD.