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'Gimme Shelter' not clear about where its heart is

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‘Gimme Shelter'

★★ (out of 4)


Wide release

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By Roger Moore
Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

“Gimme Shelter” is a simplistic, faintly emotional account of a pregnant teen's desperate search for help, support and compassion with the huge decision she faces.

Agnes (Vanessa Hudgens) is 16 and poor, the daughter of a drug addict (Rosario Dawson). Agnes, who decides she wants to be called “Apple,” is all piercings, ill-fitting dirty clothes and tattoos. And if she needs a case study in how life can go wrong by having a baby at that tender age, she can look at mom — a raging, staggering, yellow-toothed horror in her early 30s.

But Apple, with no more warning than an “I'm out,” runs away — fist-fighting her mother to get through the door. With just a little cash, the clothes on her back and a crumpled old envelope with an address on it, she sets out in search of the father she's never met.

There are misadventures along the way — sleeping in a car she breaks into, threats from a pimp, a car crash, an arrest. Her affluent, suburban dad (Brendan Fraser) has two kids, a gorgeous French wife (Stephanie Szostak) and enough guilt to take her in. But the wife won't stand for it.

Hudgens seems to revel in playing Apple, a hostile, ill-mannered and impulsive “every teen.”

Where can she go, who is left to turn to? Her mother, wanting that extra welfare check, is tracking her down. As street-savvy as this sullen, standoffish girl is, she's in way over her head.

A priest (James Earl Jones) and a shelter run by the understanding, but no-nonsense, Kathy (Ann Dowd of “Side Effects” and “Compliance”) offer Apple sanctuary.

Writer-director Ron Krauss attracted a good cast, and Hudgens, hell-bent on leaving her Disney “High School Musical” image behind, dives into the street language and angry, downcast look of a defiant girl.

A better film would have made more of the dilemmas, been more honest with the many dead ends facing Apple. This shelter doesn't seem to do much other than house pregnant girls — no schooling, vocational training, state assistance.

It's the sort of movie whose finale leaves you wondering, “Why do they always leave out what happens next?”

Roger Moore is a staff writer for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

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