Many terrible things happen to the kids in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete: Most notably, the Mister of the title, played by Skylan Brooks, sees his heroin-addicted prostitute mother (a potentially overwrought role played by a blessedly low-key Jennifer Hudson) picked up by the police, leaving Mister and his younger neighbor, a sweet-faced and guileless Korean kid named Pete (Ethan Dizon), to fend for themselves for what turns out to be the whole summer. But director George Tillman Jr. is more interested in these kids' resourcefulness and resilience than in turning their suffering into liberal-guilt porn. Tillman, working from a screenplay by Michael Starrbury, doesn't diminish the horrors these kids face: Both have mothers who work the streets, barely providing for them. And both boys know instinctively that the system is more likely to harm than help them. They utter the name "Riverview," the children's home run by Child Protective Services, as if it were Rikers Island for tots, desperately dodging the cops who might drag them there. Yet there's joy in sudden independence, too, and Tillman keys in to that as young Skylan Brooks, in particular, keeps the movie spinning. Mister is a charismatic kid, a showboater; he's even developed a personal method-acting regimen involving a monologue from Fargo, which he delivers with Stanislavskian zeal. In one of the movie's sharpest and funniest scenes, he uses his killer acting skills to wriggle out of a jam with a patronizing white store clerk. Happy endings are all well and good, but that's really the moment we know, despite it all, Mister will do just fine.
Sometimes it's the little things in a movie that get you. Early in George Tillman Jr.'s The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete, a bright but obstreperous 13-year-old inner-city kid — the Mister of the title, played by Skylan Brooks — bounces back from the trauma of getting an F