I’m very excited for Kicks. Not because I’m a sneakerhead—far from it, though sneaker and fashion-centric lifestyle websites have been giving the trailer a lot of shine. To be honest, “sneaker culture” a treacherous content peg for a lot of those places, as this movie looks to deal more with violence, poverty and the dangers of aforementioned culture than with the “check these dope kicks” angle.
I’m mostly exited for this movie because I’m a movie nerd. The debut work of Justin Tipping, this film looks promising. Tipping, of a one line IMDb bio, hails from Oakland, having attended UCSB and the AFI Conservatory, according to his website. Hopefully this film, set in his native East Bay and selected for the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, is the beginning of a great career.
Fronted by young actors like Jahking Guillory and the son of Biggie Smalls, the film’s only face with serious name recognition is that of Mahershala Ali, a.k.a Remy Danton from “House of Cards.” Needless to say, playing the protagonist’s uncle, dispensing advice on being a man that carries overtones of street violence, his looks is a bit stripped down from the slick lobbyist’s suits of his earlier gig. I’m stoked at the switch-up, though, as Ali is a strong actor and I’m excited to see him work in a vastly different space.
The film looks like it’ll offset its darker themes with some comedic relief, as evidenced by a few funny beats in the trailer. While a movie like Dope was generally comedic, with the darker aspects of street violence and growing up in poverty working their way in, Kicks might just flip that: a dramedy that puts the drama first, while switching between laughter and violence as easily and quickly as real life can.
The thing that’s got me geeked, however, is the cinematography. Sure, we’re seeing brief cuts in the trailer, but check the aerial shot at 1:05 of the BART sliding around a curve, or the low-slung angle of cruising bikes at 1:43, the main character boosted on the handlebars with a 40. Of course, there’s also a few slo-mo shots of some smoking-tire car action, like in the sideshow at 2:06. Jump to 2:09 and peep the shallow depth of field isolating the antagonist from bystanders who seem to be fleeing some manner of violence. Best of all is the very cinematic move at 1:38, as the apparently hard character with the long braids asks simply “What, you scared?” while exhaling smoke through his nose, twin jets that conjure images of a dragon’s breath or devilish horns. The seconds from the last time the viewer sees him take a drag until he exhales, all the while talking casually about an evening that looks to end in violence, is perfection. It’s hard to tell from just these few instances, but if the camera work and directorial decisions are as high quality as this trailer promises, we could be in for quite the movie.
Of course, there’s the presence of the astronaut/possible imaginary friend of the main character, plus woozy movement in neon-lit hallways and almost hallucinatory scenes overlayed with narration. I’m often hesitant when ideas that break the suspension of disbelief come into play, preferring “realistic” (whatever that means) action to not, but there could be something really cool to come of this. The battle mantra “Chin up, chest out when it’s flame time/ Can’t be a man if I let another claim mine” recited by someone as young and pretty as the 14 year old Jahking Guillory is haunting. It’ll certainly stay on my mind until the film hits theaters September 9th.