KICKS (USA 2016) ****
Directed by Justin Tipping
Starring: Jahking Guillory, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Christopher Meyer
Review by Gilbert Seah
KICKS is the ‘nigga’ term for shoes and refers to the pair of red Jordan sneakers Brandon (Jahking Guillory) bought and lost within the same day. The film brings a new look to the term ‘red shoes’.
“Get your nigga ass over here.” are words used instead of “Please, come here,” in the film. This is one example of the common black slang used in KICKS. KICKS is a spirited African American film that puts the audience right in the hood. The hood in this case is Richmond of East Bay, California. Similar to Vittorio de Sica’s classic BICYCLE THIEVES, the protagonist gets his prized possession, his KICKS stolen. Updated to the present, the victim, unlike the Italian who got the bike quietly stolen, Brandon is beaten up, insulted and has his beaten ass photographed on a cellphone and uploaded on to YouTube.
Justin Tipping’s film has a simple premise. 15-year old Brandon longs for a pair of the coolest sneakers that money can buy, assuming that merely having them on his feet will help him escape the reality of being poor, neglected by the opposite sex and picked on by everyone – even his best friends. His best friends – good-looking Lothario Rico (Christopher Meyer) and wisecracking Albert (Christopher Jordan Wallace, son of the Notorious B.I.G.) – are hilarious, making fun of Brandon half the time, while trying to get it on with the chicks. Working hard to get them which he eventually does, hilariously from a street hustler (he is too naive to question if they are genuine), he soon finds that the shoes have instead made him a target after they are promptly snatched by Flaco (Kofi Siriboe), a local hood. Brandon goes on a mission to retrieve his stolen sneakers, even stealing a gun in the process.
Tipping has plenty of style on display. He makes good use of slow motion from the car spinning competition (making the sequence look like a majestic symphony), to the rap music to the upbeat titles that precede each segment. It also helps that his characters are interesting as well as funny. Brandon learns a few life lessons on the way. Though Brandon finally gets his sneakers back, the question that finally bogs him, is whether all the effort is worth it. He is now on the watch for Flaco who he knows will hunt him down to get the shoes back. And his best buddies are hurt in the process.
Another feature of Tipping’s film is the depiction of Flaco’s character . Flaco, though first shown as a tough thug, is later shown giving the shoes to his young son (Michael Smith Jr.). When the sneakers are taken by Brandon, Flaco drags his young son on a mission to teach Brandon a lesson. The narrative sacrifices a portion dedicated to the character of Flaco with effective results.
2016 will be remembered for some fine black low budget films. At the Toronto International Film Festival, highlights were MOONLIGHT, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO and BIRTH OF A NATION. Though KICKS did not play at the festival, it is the most original and entertaining of the lot.