Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue May 02, 2017 6:13 am 
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Unique twists undercut by clichés in this appealing calling card

In Sleight, a calling-card film (full of promise yet it disappoints). What's original: DIY superpowers adopted by a science nerd magician to fight his way out of a ghetto drug trap. What's not: all the clichés of that situation.

Bo (20-year-old R&B crooner Jacob Latimore) is the electronics and science nerd and skilled street magician. He has recently given up the chance of a brilliant college career on scholarship when his mother dies, so he can take care of his too-adorable little sister Tina (Storm Reid). Now he augments street card trick earnings with the better pay of nighttime deliveries for a (seemingly) charming and well-mannered local drug lord, Angelo (Dulé Hill). Or course Angelo turns nasty and not only makes Bo do something medieval to punish an absurdly defiant competitor, but gives him an impossible monetary goal as punishment for filching profits. It's just a kid trying to get by. . .

The poster calls Sleight "Chronicle meets Iron Man" and that's sort of true, but it's an odd grafting. In Josh Trank's 2012 Chronicle, which is considerably better (but itself degenerates into CGI excess), teen boys fall into a meteorite hole and, touching it, gain powers of teleportation. Bo alters himself (somewhat implausibly, and uncomfortably) by injecting magnets and wires into his own body to move metalic stuff for his tricks - and then augments that so much he can do more dramatic stuff to scare the bejesus out of Angelo and his posse. At the end - and this is kind of cool, really - Bo and Tina have escaped to San Diego (not really very far, for going underground), and in a prequel hint, the closing shot shows us a haunting flash. Has the kid gone X-Man?

Hard to say, but the running around to make a draconian financial goal for a crime boss that provides the movie's suspense could not be more obvious, nor could the majority of the characters, including Bo's needy new girlfriend Holly (Seychelle Gabriel), who has her ghetto burden, an abusive, alcoholic mother. The acting doesn't add anything new either. The pretty Latimore exudes an appealing slippery charm, though as Peter Debruge says in his Variety review (where he calls it "charisma") he makes the beginner's mistake of "pantomiming" every emotion.

The physicality of Bo's self-alteration is a bit creepy, not very convincing as realism its choice not to go the total fantasy route chosen in Chronicle. The latter film's focus on how adolescent males would terribly misuse superpowers is a very original twist. But the nature of what Dillard is doing here makes it quite understandable that he and his cowriter Alex Theurer are in serious talks with Fox to do the remake of "The Fly." Dillard's personal passion for magic and his interest in body alteration are his unique twists. Will the new "Fly" be African American?

Sleight, 90 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2016; it opened in US theaters 28 Apr. 2017. Jacob Latimore's song and dance skills can be observed in the music video of Love Drug.

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