The son of a disapproving mother heads off to boot camp to "make himself a man" — big quotes around that phrase — in "The Inspection," a tough drama that takes a while to find its center.
Even if the movie spends most of its time dealing with the ins and outs of basic training, its depiction of the relationship between mother and child is what, eventually, represents the beating heart of the film.
"The Inspection" marks the highly personal feature film debut of writer-director Elegance Bratton. While it traffics in "Full Metal Jacket"-style depictions of the relentlessness of military training — territory Bratton himself knows well, given his own experience as a Marine — it's just as much about acceptance and identity, and the tough love of a closed-minded parent.
Jeremy Pope plays Ellis French, Bratton's stand-in for himself, who is homeless as the film opens. His mother Inez (Gabrielle Union) has essentially disowned him for being gay, and Ellis' quest to win her approval and her love leads him to enlist in the Marines, and he heads off to train in Parris Island, South Carolina.
There, he endures the usual bigotry and bullying — both sanctioned and unsanctioned — that we're used to from films such as this. Bokeem Woodbine is effective as Leland Laws, the squad leader, and Raúl Castillo (this year's "Cha Cha Real Smooth") is Rosales, who has an understanding of Ellis' quest to fit in.
"The Inspection" does feel unfocused at times, or like it's playing the Greatest Hits of other movies that came before it. It's not until Union's character returns that the film comes full circle, and it shows that a loving tribute doesn't mean that everything needs to be wrapped up with a bow in the end. It can be complicated and ugly and emotionally jagged, as long as it's honest.
Rating: R (for language throughout, sexual content, some nudity and violence)
Running time: 1:35
How to watch: Now in theaters
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