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It would be one thing if Palmer (Justin Timberlake) were the type to drop Sam (Lance Nichols) at the nearest precinct house and let the police sort things out until wayward mother Shelly (Juno Temple) turned up. (Her Jean Kasem braid pulled tighter than a ship’s anchor, Shelly conveniently disappears on a drug-fueled bender for the first half of the picture.) But even the 12-year stretch in the pen that he just finished serving couldn’t harden Palmer’s heart to that degree. Sam is non-binary. For those not up to speed on current terms of respectfulness, one of the locals sums him up with, “There’s something seriously wrong with that kid.” Palmer goes directly from his cell to grandma Vivian’s (June Squibb) house, where Sam and his mother live in the trailer out back. He spends his first night of freedom in Shelly’s bed, which may contribute to his willingness to look after Sam when Vivian dies in her sleep. Director Fisher Stevens (Stand Up Guys) and novice screenwriter Cheryl Guerriero put their creative talents to best use when pointing out the finer details of an ex-con returning to life’s daily rigor — like the moment when a parolee realizes he may once again leave his towel and toothbrush in the bathroom. Sam becomes so loyal to Palmer that he eagerly starts the day by bringing his new friend a morning beer. And it will be some time before I forget Sam’s scornful reply of “Football?” when asked if he’s ever attended a game. (Alas, cuteness began to set in around the time Sam was forced to accompany Palmer on a visit to the parole officer.) All hell breaks loose when Shelly returns to find Palmer petitioning for custody of her child. Shelly moves like a rusty weathervane. You really can’t blame the generally dependable Temple for the quality of her performance. She’s only as awful as the script allows her to be. Palmer kidnaps Sam and the penny serenade he sings to the judge is effective, but nothing short of an overhaul could salvage the film’s unrepentantly hackneyed final third. (2021) — Scott Marks

Rated R | 1 hour, 50 minutes
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