A little bit of magic can go a long way. Heading into its second weekend, Sleight looks to continue its momentum with a little boost from word of mouth. Made on a relatively small budget of $250,000 it has already earned more than $2-million at the box office, proving there is room for diverse and original storytelling. 

I was probably one of the few people excited for the April 28th release, reflected by the limited number of screens showing the film in the Los Angeles area. However, I don’t mind going out of the way a bit to watch a flick that catches my interest. It wasn’t even on my radar until I saw the trailer during the previews before the regrettable The Belko Experiment and I think it’s a fair to say it wasn’t on many other’s either.

J.D. Dillard directed and co-wrote this breath of fresh air after working on short films since 2009. His 2006 film Judy Goose was mostly well received and utilized a character driven script to build a strong foundation…the same can be said for Sleight. Dillard co-wrote with Alex Theurer who he’d worked with previously on The Exchange (2013 short) and they are currently in pre-production for the upcoming film Sweetheart. The two seem to have a knack for characters which is not solely tied to specific dialogue, but tethered to creating personalities that are unambiguous. Each character’s role is clearly defined from the jump and, although they undergo some change, the progression is fairly obvious and hinted at in the previews. There are some plot holes regarding the main character’s background as an engineering wunderkind and the loose affiliation he has with his high school science teacher, but nothing to really dwell on too much.

For those who don’t know anything about it, Sleight is the story of a young man who is trying to make a better life for him and his younger sister after their mother dies, leaving them to fend for themselves. In order to pay the bills and provide for his sister, he’s established himself as a reliable and friendly street level drug dealer but his true passion is street magic. After meeting a troubled young women, he sets off on a series of increasingly bad decisions and winds up in much more trouble than he had ever imagined was possible. In order to find his way out, he must summon all the and craftiness and cunning which makes him a good magician and utilize it to his advantage before time runs out on him. On a side note, there is an inclination to label all drug dealers as bad people and I’m glad this film showcased a situation where the extenuating circumstances surrounding decision making can alter behaviors. Although it’s been billed as a “new superhero” movie, but I find that’s more than a bit misleading. The character does exhibit a unique skill set, but his motivation comes from necessity and not from a position of moral authority. 

The unquestioned star of the movie is Jacob Latimore in the lead role of Bo. Whatever “it” is, this kid has it…and at only 20 years old he’s got an incredibly bright future ahead of him. Latimore came to the project with smaller roles in Collateral Beauty (2016), The Maze Runner (2014) and Ride Along (2014) already under his belt but, nearest I can tell, this was his first shot a lead role in a feature. Cohesively charming, sympathetic, handsome and funny…the young man is incredibly easy to cheer for, his performance exemplifying ‘making the most of an opportunity.’ The addition of a well written and well envisioned character made for an enjoyable on-screen combination where the audience is invested in the lead character for the right reasons.

Taking center stage opposite Latimore was the ridiculously likeable Dulé Hill. Since Psych went off the air in 2014, he’s stayed busy with recurring roles in CBS’s Doubt, Ballers on HBO and even a role in Psych buddy James Roday’s 2015 film Gravy. Hill turning heel and playing the villain was a mouthwatering proposition for a fan like myself and my primary motivation for seeing the film. He did not disappoint. Starting slowly, his character Angelo gradually snowballed into a colossal asshole to say the least. Hill never quite reached the level of malicious intensity I was hoping for but was convincingly menacing when it counted. It was a good turn for him and will hopefully open the doors to some new roles.

One of the stronger, more noticeable aspects of the film was Charles Scott IV’s original score. He had worked in music departments for television shows for a while but hadn’t scored a film on his own other than a 2006 short titled Murder Baby. The score for Sleight was incredibly well balanced and seamlessly integrated, carrying both the undeniable hope and tension tied to Bo’s journey. As the intensity of the story ratchets up quickly at times, the music goes right along with it and signals a marked change in the tone of the film.

Ed Wu’s cinematography was serviceable but not exceptional. Redundant B-roll shots of a palm trees waving in the breeze set against a blue California sky are nice, but didn’t really serve a purpose or set the scene. However, he did a very good job with exterior shots, chosen to display the authentic character of Los Angeles through the eye of someone intimate with the city. He had some creative close-up shots in the film as well. Namely, a safe cracking scene shot from the floor up which landed as an appropriate metaphor for just how upside down Bo’s life had become at that point.

The special and visual effects teams complemented one another very well on this project and put forth a congruent vision for the characters and the story. Most of the visual effects shots take advantage of the set lighting and don’t muddle in showing of the CGI. The special effects throughout the film are about as practical as it gets, only relying on CGI when it was an absolute must. It’s refreshing to see this kind of film making again and considering the budget, they certainly made the most of things.  There is an opening for a sequel should the film do well enough to warrant another installment. I’d be more than happy to check it out if they decide to follow up, as long as the key pieces are still in place.

Recommendation: Definitely check it out if you’r in the mood for something other than Guardians of the Galaxy 2.  The R rating is a bit of a misnomer as there isn’t really excessive language, violence or nudity. However, the rating seems to stem from one or two scenes that have some relatively graphic violence. It’s mostly safe as a family film aside from those two scenes, and by comparison drastically tamer than other R titles directly aimed at a sub PG-13 audiences in the last couple of years.

Grade: C+