Sleight is an urban drama with science fiction-y undertones that slipped its way past most moviegoers’ radar when it hit theaters this April. The biggest trick up Sleight‘s sleeve wasn’t in its unique spin and portrayal of an at-risk youth in today’s society, but its ad campaign…
The trailer for Sleight promised us a “genre-bending masterpiece” that “defies conventions,” with reviewers hailing it as “Chronicle meets Iron Man.” As a black male movie-goer myself who quite frankly is tired of urban crime dramas I was sold — especially in today’s superhero dominated box office arena.
Too bad Sleight only came out, well … slightly. And was anything but the exciting film the trailer pitched it to be.
Urban crime dramas are a dime-a-dozen these days with slight variances in flavors to choose from to numb your brains for 90 or so minutes. These films portray your cliché protagonist-with-a-heart-of-gold who can’t seem to escape the black hole that is the criminal underworld. Our hero finds a love interest, develops more of a conscience, then devises a scheme to get out of their life of crime only to drag the ones they love deeper into the conflict. Ultimately, after digging deeper and going against insurmountable odds, our hero prevails. Sleight follows an unbearably by-the-numbers story that slogs through a very predictable and telegraphed plot. It is about Bo (played by Jacob Lattimore), a street magician with-a-heart-of-gold, who … yeah, you get the picture from there…
The film’s cast was a mixed bag. Jacob Lattimore’s portrayal of Bo was great. He appeared as a natural in the role, especially in the scenes where he performed street magic, but when scenes got more dramatic you really saw Lattimore struggle — not necessarily with his acting, but delivering and reacting to the film’s terrible dialog. No actor in this film was safe from this. The film’s antagonist, Angelo (played by Dulé Hill), fell the hardest upon the sword of this film’s poor script, with his descent into villainy even rivaling Anakin Skywalker’s sudden shift to the Dark Side in Revenge of the Sith. The phrase “well that escalated quickly” is a gross understatement. Bo’s love interest Holly (played by Seychelle Gabriel) was another character the script didn’t pay any favors to. The Holly character was literally a “prop” in the film, serving to prod Bo along to do what needed to be done. Holly’s relationship with Bo didn’t even feel natural due to the writing and came off contrived and slightly forced. In today’s world where stronger female characters are desired, Holly definitely was a step in the wrong direction.
If Sleight has one thing going for it you could tell the film had heart. Despite all of Sleight‘s shortcomings the film definitely came across as an indie passion project with a soul. It was made to be different and not as some tailor-made genre film meant to cash in on the superhero hype that has been running away with the box office numbers on a consistent basis. Writer/director J.D. Dillard had his heart in the right place when attempting his hand at the helm of this film, succeeding in grossing $3 million worldwide against a $250,000 budget — which is pretty fantastic in its own right.
The writing may have been contrived and the plot was slightly uninspired, but that didn’t detract from what this film set out to do. No, it wasn’t the superhero film the trailer made it out to be, but it did succeed in opening our eyes to the untapped potential that is currently being mined from urban films. Hopefully Sleight will pioneer the way for more filmmakers to do some genre-bending of their own and succeed where it fell short. Not all black youths are subjected to hard lives orbited by crime and drugs like Sleight, Dope and even Moonlight would suggest. Maybe this film is evidence that a departure from those stereotypical norms is coming?
Sleight is a clumsy film with a good heart. It won’t change the world but it did set the stage for a paradigm shift in how urban films can entertain us. But perhaps that was the trick it was meant to pull all along? If that’s the case then I say “bravo!”
Want to see Sleight and judge for yourself? Click on the images below to buy your tickets now, and be sure to come back and tell us what you thought!