Rob Morgan in Steps (Photo: Cinedigm)

STEPS
★★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Rock Davis & Jay Rodriguez Jr.
STARS Rob Morgan, Walter Fauntleroy

Emotions win out over intellect when it comes to Steps, an indie feature that is often short on believability but stands tall when the conversation turns to empathy. Written by Eddie Harris, it isn’t a faith-based film per se (that term is nowhere to be found in its promotional material), yet it exhibits a generosity of spirit certain to earn the blessing of those it affects.

More cynical sorts, however, might be bothered not only by the coincidences that occur at regular intervals but also by the film’s determination to reach a feel-good finale, no matter how hard it needs to push to get there.

The fine actor Rob Morgan (also seen in last year’s independent offering Bull, reviewed here) stars as Brian Coleman, an attorney whose life is destroyed after he’s nearly killed in an armed robbery. Turning to alcohol to ease his pain, he isolates his pregnant fiancée Wendy (Tia Dionne Hodge) and eventually forces her to leave him. Cut to 14 years later, and Brian is a homeless man still addicted to the bottle. Wendy continues to live in the area, but she has a restraining order against Brian and refuses to let him see their now-teenage son Omar (Darius Kaleb).

Thanks to the efforts of Marvin (Robert McKay), a priest who also becomes his close friend, Brian is able to begin getting his life back in order. Determined to win back his ex-girlfriend (who of course is about to marry a womanizing lout) and become a real father to his son, he starts by serving as the handyman at Marvin’s church before landing a job as a health aide, tasked with assisting the elderly and the disabled in their own homes. And who should Brian’s next assignment be but Taji (Walter Fauntleroy), the punk who shot him 14 years earlier and is now in a wheelchair after getting plugged himself.

Walter Fauntleroy in Steps (Photo: Cinedigm)

The fact that Brian and Taji meet again in such a scenario will doubtless lead to plenty of eye-rolling for various reasons, but once the movie moves past that contrivance, it scores in its exploration of the tense relationship between the two men. Never as condescending or heavy-handed as the global smash The Intouchables (a film also involving a paraplegic and his caretaker), Steps admirably keeps its rage intact, not only from Brian toward Taji but also Wendy toward Brian and Taji toward the world.

Of course, the ultimate messages of the movie involve forgiveness and redemption, so the film is not going to climax with Brian pushing the wheelchair-bound Taji down a flight of stairs a la Richard Widmark’s Tommy Udo in 1947’s Kiss of Death. Instead, happy endings are handed out with the same efficiency as the Wizard of Oz placating Dorothy and friends with various baubles. Yet what’s significant is that we’ve come to care enough about these characters that we forgive the narrative implausibilities and instead bask in the all-enveloping warmth.

Incidentally, NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal is listed as one of the executive producers. It’s a good use of his time and resources, and certainly preferable to a belated Kazaam 2.

(Steps is available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, and other streaming platforms.)

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