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Film Spotlight: Gimme Shelter 

In the early 1970s, ABC started airing a series of programs called after-school specials. They were designed to educate school-age children about controversial issues such as drug abuse and teen pregnancy.

Gimme Shelter, the new drama starring actress and singer Vanessa Hudgens, takes a similar tone and comes off as a bit too pedantic. It opens at area theaters on Friday.

The film commences with a powerful scene in which teenage Agnes "Apple" Bailey cuts off her long black hair in a dingy bathroom and then gets into a verbal and physical argument with her abusive mother June (Rosario Dawson) before escaping in a cab. When she took on the role of a slutty teen in Harmony Korine's 2013 flick Spring Breakers, Hudgens proved she wasn't just another clean-cut kid that Disney had groomed for success. Rather, she provide she could play edgy characters. She's certainly up to the task here.

After escaping the clutches of her evil mother, Apple tracks down her biological father. She only has the address of a letter he wrote her when she was still a child but she eventually finds him. Tom (Brendan Fraser) hooked up with her mom when he was still in high school and his parents forbade him from continuing to see her because they feared it would get in the way of his college education. Now he works on Wall Street and lives in an enormous house that reflects his wealth. But he still feels guilty about the whole thing — and Fraser, who's quite good at playing a sourpuss, certainly sells the part. But it's clear from the minute that Apple arrives that she won't be able to get along with either Tom's bossy wife (Stephanie Szostak) or with his other children, so she runs off again.

On the recommendation of a kind priest (James Earl Jones), who comes off as a guardian angel of sorts, Apple winds up at a shelter for troubled teens that's run by Kathy (Ann Dowd), a spiritual woman who was once homeless but has turned her home into a refuge. Predictably enough, Apple bonds with the other teens and begins to turn her life around. Hudgens struggles some with the transformation — the script doesn't leave much room for subtlety — as she starts to mature into a woman. She also continues to battle with her mother, who still wants custody even though she's clearly not fit to be a mother.

Writer-director Ron Krauss (Amexica) has stumbled upon some great source material here — the film is based on a true story and we see the people upon whom it's based during the final credits— but he just doesn't know how to handle the hot topic. Shot as if it were a documentary, the movie would have been much better if it really were a documentary.

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