Emilio Estevez writes, directs and stars in this tame drama about a public demonstration at a Cincinnati library

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As a founding member of "The Breakfast Club," Emilio Estevez knows a thing or two about libraries. 

But that history doesn't help "The Public," Estevez' soggy yarn about the classes, the media and big city politics, set against a demonstration at Cincinnati's Public Library.   

Writer-director Estevez stars in "The Public" as Stuart Goodson, a librarian who starts his day chumming it up with the homeless class who use the library's restrooms to freshen up. It's a bitter cold winter, and with the city's homeless shelters at capacity, the library is a favorite stop for transients to pop in and stay warm. 

Estevez takes his time — too much time — establishing the quirks of the library patrons, treating "The Public" like a riff on "Empire Records" or "Clerks" before getting to the meat of the story. With nighttime falling, the city's homeless class decides to occupy the library, a public demonstration that becomes a police matter when the city's chief prosecutor (Christian Slater) and a crisis negotiator (Alec Baldwin) become involved.

Outside, a sensationalistic TV reporter (Gabrielle Union) covers the story like a hostage situation for the benefit of her ratings and social media following. Indoors, Goodson sees the point the homeless are making and aligns with them, which undercuts the story's suspense. 

"The Public" features several strong performances — Slater, Baldwin and Estevez all dig in and find the layers in their characters — but the stakes never feel high enough for any of it to matter. It's a noble effort, but "The Public" never makes a convincing case for its cause. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama   

'The Public'

GRADE: C+

Rated PG-13: for thematic material, nudity, language, and some suggestive content

Running time: 122 minutes

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