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This contrived situation, the stuff of a screwball comedy, is muddled and its "Reading Is Fundamental" message a familiar one, but director Ichaso manages to avoid the story's potential to become "My Fair Lady meets Clockers" and allows the central performances of Poitier pere and fille to hold centerstage. Sidney Poitier is, of course, an extraordinarily compelling, if frequently underrated, figure, and his daughter holds her own against him, never suggesting that hers is a vanity casting. The film itself is self-conscious and didactic but in a way that recalls Poitier's own work as a director in the '70s. In dramatic terms, Free of Eden cheats, compressing too many plot points into a quick conclusion, but you can almost forgive it, thanks to the complexity Poitier brings to it through sheer iconic strength. A banal message is redeemed by the power of his personal presence.

Funny Valentines shows at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 on BET; Free of Eden premieres at 7 p.m. Feb. 21 on Showtime.

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