In Karl Lentini’s debut feature, “Cleaver’s Destiny,” a teenage girl discovers that her father, a Gulf War vet who abandoned her long ago and whom she believed dead, is instead homeless and suffering from dementia on the streets of Los Angeles. There are occasional hints of a decent film here, particularly in scenes involving the traumatized father figure, enacted with surprising effectiveness by helmer-scripter Lentini himself. But Amy, as incarnated by Jenny Leona di Gennaro, fails to read cohesively, registering more as a grab bag of assorted adolescent problems than as a fully developed character. Further play after the pic’s Sept. 27 opening looks unlikely.
Amy succeeds fairly easily in tracking Daddy down, but the fearful, withdrawn Bill has no memory of the wife and little girl he walked out on. For Amy, who has just been dumped by her married high-school teacher (Rob Roy Cesar), her quest to socialize her father stems from deep-set relationship issues, mother issues, roommate issues and money issues. But these experiences are never placed into any personal or even generational context, leaving them scattered across the surface of the film.
Furthermore, “Cleaver’s Destiny” fudges questions of veterans’ rights, as the controversy over governmental vs. individual responsibility for postwar mental breakdown is only superficially examined. Ultimately, the Veterans Affairs doctor diagnoses Bill’s dementia as genetic and hereditary rather than combat-related, a judgment that sails past Amy’s apparent cluelessness as to what it implies, even regarding her own mental health. Meanwhile, Bill, in lucid stretches with an old army bud (Luke Sabis), struggles with the residue of his own wartime guilt. But the film insistently buries any possible political ramifications under the all-important notion of family reconciliation.
The writer-director’s attempt to relate his two characters’ destinies feels forced and disconnected throughout, never more so than when Amy, kicked out of her apartment, opts to sleep on the street rather than move back in with her mom (Alexis Corey). This sets up a final father-daughter encounter whose dramatic finale conveniently obviates the need for either the actress or the screenplay to resolve the pic’s muddled storylines.
Hampered by pedestrian, underpopulated mise-en-scene, a sketchy script and uneven thesping, “Destiny” definitely underwhelms. Production values expose the film’s shoestring budget in just about every area, from its spatially vague sense of location to its hollow sound design, though Lentini’s own score proves functional enough.