James Burns (Spencer Lofranco) ended up behind bars in spite of his frustrated mother’s (Mary-Louise Parker) best efforts to keep him on the straight and narrow path. When he was 14, she took him down to the police station for a good talking to after she found a pistol in his possession.
But that early intervention failed to scare the cocky juvenile straight, and he would join a street gang setting up shop in his suburban Denver neighborhood. Eventually, the law caught up with James and, tried as an adult, he was convicted of vandalism, robbery and assault before being shipped off to a maximum security penitentiary where he immediately found his manhood being challenged at every turn.
He soon landed in trouble with a security guard (James Woods) for coming to the assistance of another newcomer (Ben Rosenfield) being picked on by a hardened con (Taboo) looking for trouble. And he was warned that continued fighting was likely to jeopardize his chances of getting off early for good behavior to be reunited with the girl of his dreams (Taissa Farmiga).
James finally finds inspiration in an unlikely friendship forged with a fellow inmate (Ving Rhames) doing life for murder. Wise old Conrad takes the kid under his wing, convincing him to find another outlet for the aggressive urge to retaliate. “Keep writing,” he suggests upon learning of James’ love of poetry. “It doesn’t even matter if it’s good or not.”
That is the pivotal plot development in “Jamesy Boy,” a fact-based tale of redemption marking the noteworthy directorial and scriptwriting debut of Trevor White. While the overcoming-the-odds biopic might not break any new ground in terms of the genre, it makes up in earnestness what it might lack in originality, thanks to a talented cast which includes veterans Ving Rhames, Mary-Louise Parker and James Woods as well as fresh faces Spencer Lofranco, Taissa Farmiga (Vera’s sister) and hip-hop star Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas.
The picture’s postscript informs the audience that the real-life James Burns, now 25, lives in New York City where he studied poetry in college. A modern morality play about a young felon who, after paying his debt to society, left the slammer rehabilitated with more of a fondness for rhyme than robbery.