It's hard not to be affected by a story about a pregnant, homeless teenager such as the one at the heart of "Gimme Shelter," which stars "High School Musical's" Vanessa Hudgens. But some movies, full of good intentions and cliches undermining those intentions, make it very hard indeed.
In the case of this one, writer-director Ron Krauss deals a mixture of truth; characters based on actual people, composites and creative fabrications. In other words, it's no more or less factual than any other drama inspired by real events. But "Gimme Shelter" suffers from an acute case of the fakes. The speeches sound like speeches, and not good ones.
Early on, Hudgens' character, Apple Bailey, has fled her abusive, crackhead mother (Rosario Dawson) to find her wealthy birth father (Brendan Fraser). In the kitchen of a pristine McMansion owned by Fraser's character, a Wall Street investment firm hotshot, Apple unloads a pile of exposition, bitter and resentful, directed at the parent she never had.
Everything comes out in a long spiel: details about the horrors of childhood, a sexually abusive foster father, the mean streets that followed. And you're thinking: This is wrenching. Or it's supposed to be; it should be.
But the awkward way Krauss sets it up and the way Hudgens delivers it, instead of doing what exposition should do — getting the audience up to speed on necessary information efficiently and, with luck, in character — it comes off like the year's least-interesting acting class monologue.
The countless young women who have shelters to thank for their very survival deserve better than this.
After a serious car accident, Apple meets the hospital chaplain (James Earl Jones), who sets her on God's path to a better future. Ann Dowd plays the true-life Kathy DiFiore, who runs a shelter for teenage mothers and mothers-to-be out of her own home; this is where Apple lands and comes to know some semblance of security.
The most frightening incident in "Gimme Shelter" really happened — it's a horrifying encounter between the female protagonist and her birth mother, who attacks her with a razor blade. The incidents sometimes carry the undeniable ring of authenticity. But Krauss fails to instill his characters with the stuff, the juice, of interesting dimensional conflict.
The bedrock conservative message of the material is just that: a message in search of a more persuasive screenplay.
"Gimme Shelter" - 1 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material involving mistreatment, some drug content, violence and language — all concerning teens).
Running time: 1:40