Directed by J.D. Dillard.
Starring Jacob Latimore, Seychelle Gabriel, Dulé Hill, Storm Reid, Sasheer Zamata, Brandon Johnson, Cameron Esposito, and Frank Clem.
A young street magician (Jacob Latimore) is left to care for his little sister after their parents passing, and turns to illegal activities to keep a roof over their heads. When he gets in too deep, his sister is kidnapped, and he is forced to use his magic and brilliant mind to save her.
Drug dealing street magicians – if that sounds outside the box enough then definitely check out Sleight, a science fiction thriller committed to presenting the tried-and-true hard-hitting narrative regarding young African-Americans desperately seeking to escape rough neighborhoods with the admirable intentions of improving the lives of loved ones, all through a uniquely creative lens. In this case, Bo (played convincingly and grounded by Jacob Latimore in a breakout performance) is one year removed from the unfortunate death of his mother and is struggling to scrape up the required amount of cash to move out of the drug and gang infested urban Los Angeles area to a location more fitting for his bright minded young sister to receive a better education and grow up around.
Bo’s method is twofold; his legal and more respectable source of income is by performing street magic for various citizens in more populated and slightly wealthier markets, but the bulk of his green comes from pushing large amounts of cocaine for a notorious drug dealer. However, since he isn’t the thuggish type, Bo relies on his trickster magician skills to assist his technique, which most notably comes in handy for evading cops that are onto his illegal activities. The trick up Sleight‘s sleeve (and this is revealed rather early on, so it’s not a spoiler) is that the magic truly is magic, in a sense. Bo has mechanically engineered parts of his shoulders that, with the power of science, grant him the ability to manipulate metal objects. The obvious comparison here is that, yes, he is the poor, black Tony Stark.
The one lingering and major problem with Sleight though is that the script and direction (J.D. Dillard making his feature-length debut) doesn’t double down and make the most of its fascinating concept. Imagine if there were a Batman origin story where the titular superhero didn’t put on his cape and cowl to begin fighting crime until the last 15 minutes of the film, and that’s essentially what is here. For too long, Sleight meanders around in the underbelly of drug crime, and although the situations are presented in a believable and realistic fashion, most of the time it feels as if the film is abandoning its more interesting qualities. A strong portion of the film is simply just another cliché story centered on a young adult that should know better but still getting himself into trouble with dangerous people.
Despite this, the acting and characters of the movie keep things accessible and flowing gracefully with slow-burning momentum. It’s obvious that as Bo entangles himself deeper and deeper into a life of crime bad things will happen, and when that day comes it is a given that he will take his brilliant scientific mind and combine his homemade superpower into something that will subsequently grant him the strength to do good. This also makes for some surprisingly violent scenes that are downright gleeful to behold. Also, the aforementioned violence actually feels necessary and carries a surprising amount of emotional weight, as the relationships between Bo and the main three supporting characters (his sister, newly made girlfriend, and sage-like middle-aged friend) all work thanks to a less is more approach. The villains are generic drug dealers, but at the very least, the protagonists are easy to get behind. Even though the film doesn’t really showcase much of what is wrong with the area Bo and his sister reside in, the acting from Jacob really does do just enough to make the situation empathetic and invest you into his plight.
Sleight may seem unsure of what it wants to be or what direction it should head throughout its first two acts, but during the last 20 minutes it comes into its own and ends on a high note with a road paved for some exciting sequel possibilities. Honestly, Sleight deserves a sequel, as with the origin story out of the way there is room to create something truly bold and refreshing within the oversaturated superhero genre. Hopefully, the potential second installment will also focus more on combining the art of scientifically engineered magic and its crime riddled setting instead of the mostly separated approach present here.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★