Directed by J.D. Dillard. Starring Jacob Latimore, Seychelle Gabriel, Dulé Hill, Storm Reid, Sasheer Zamata, Michael Villar, Brandon Johnson, Cameron Esposito. (2017, R, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 5, 2017
It’s reductionist to tag Dillard’s feature debut as Tony Stark meets David Blaine amidst L.A.’s mean streets, chiefly because this isn’t the chaotic 52 pickup that such a marvelously mismatched outing as that would be. Instead, Sleight, which has the revelatory Latimore as Bo Wolfe, a street-hustling magician trying his best to charm dollars out of thin air in order to take care of li’l sister Tina (the enchanting beyond her years Reid), slips through genres like Houdini slipped through straitjackets. It’s a redemption micro-epic, an improbably buoyant love story, a (relatively) violent crime drama, and a decidedly unique indie-superhero flick all in one. There’s more going on here than meets the eye, but Sleight’s sleeveless heart beats true and conjures its characters to wild life. Top that sans CGI, Stan Lee.
Nikola Tesla and Franz Mesmer surely would have applauded Bo’s nervy, faux-thaumaturge tech – an electromagnetic whatzit surgically attached to his neck and wired within his arm that allows him to control metal objects, for instance a ring hovering in the air before quickly smitten onlooker/love interest Holly (Gabriel). But tricks are for kids and real, Los Angelean low-rent life demands both the best and the worst of Bo. He’s forced to sideline in drug running – ecstasy, no less – for neighborhood pusher man Angelo (Dulé Hill of The West Wing). When a deal goes sour, Sleight’s hand augurs bad, black mojo for all involved.
Dillard’s first feature was something of a Sundance hit, and no wonder: Latimore, Hill, and especially Reid give solid, naturalistic performances despite the often emo-soggy dialogue (scripted by Dillard and Alex Theurer) and a storyline that ricochets – like a copper-jacketed cop’s bullet, or Captain America’s shield – all over the place. Like its protagonist, Sleight is a scrappy, semi-super origin story that lacks the existential heft of, say, M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, or the grim comic nihilism of James Gunn’s Super.
“Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy,” diarist F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote. Sleight too often falls to homonym level, but Dillard and his cast bring the pain with deep, defenseless feelings, indeed, tragedy included, which is probably more than you can say for the upcoming onslaught of summer superhero blockbusters-to-be.