With its tale of two young kids left to fend for themselves in a Brooklyn housing project over the course of a sweltering summer, "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete" sounds like some ghastly combination of "Precious" and "Home Alone." The end result proves to be as awkward as its title thanks to its uneven screenplay and tone, and questionable casting in supporting parts.
The film opens on the last day of school. Thirteen-year-old Mister (Skylan Brooks) has just learned that he has failed English and will be repeating the eighth grade in the fall. At home, things aren't much better—the kitchen is empty; what little money there is goes right into the veins of his junkie prostitute mother (Jennifer Hudson); and Pete (Ethan Dizon), the 10-year-old son of one of his mother's friends, is now apparently staying with them indefinitely. The only thing he has going for him is an upcoming casting call for a television show that he believes will be his ticket out of the projects into instant stardom. (His audition scene is, of all things, Steve Buscemi's rant to the parking lot attendant in "Fargo," one of many odd touches that feel borne less of reality than of a screenwriter wanting to name-check a personal favorite.)
A few days later, Mister's life turns upside down when his mother is arrested during a raid on their building. He and Pete manage to avoid capture and decide to hole up in the apartment and wait things out for a few days while waiting his mother to return. But as the days stretch into weeks, it becomes apparent to him that she is not coming home. Not wanting to get caught up in the horrors of Child Services, the two continue to survive on their own by any means necessary while trying to overcome the lack of food, money and utilities and avoiding both the police and a loathsome local bully determined to make their lives miserable just on general principles. At first, it is fun—or as fun as possible under the circumstances—but as time goes on and their meager resources have dwindled to nothing, the fiercely proud and stubborn Mister finds himself in a position where he is forced to swallow his pride and ask for help at last.
This could be powerful stuff in the right hands, but the screenplay by first-time writer Michael Starrbury is a bit of a mess throughout. Instead of providing a strong narrative line, he introduces a bunch of ideas and then fails to develop them in any meaningful way. As a result, the film feels more like a series of episodes rather than a fully fleshed-out story, and the unrelenting miseries grow tiresome, especially during the aimless middle section.