Brandon (Jahking Guillory) dreams of owning a fresh pair of Nike Air Jordans, sure that they’ll elevate his social standing, make him a hit with the girls and make a meaningful impact on his life. Shortly after acquiring a pair they’re stolen from him and he’s beaten by a local hood. Brandon decides to do what it takes and ropes in his friends to help him get his trainers back.
With the central trio of friends (Guillory, Christopher Jordan Wallace and Christopher Meyer) evoking the likes of Riki Famuyiwa’s Dope by way of Larry Clark’s Kids and the Hughes Brothers’ Menace II Society, there is a strong thread of humour that laces these teenagers together. This levity is used sparingly and serves to both break the tension in more atmospheric beats and demonstrate the youthful vigour as the boys crack wise, talk about girls and talk themselves up.
The tougher moments come when their immaturity and lack of physical prowess puts them at odds with the more ruthless characters who’ll take what they want, violently and with no regard for human life. Brandon and his friends idolise the Hip-Hop aesthetic and the brash life that surrounds them but when faced with the remorseless viciousness of the hood it takes a toll on their friendship, making the young men question their principles. As refreshing as it was to see a hood portrayed with a strong paternal bond with his son, Kofe Siriboe wasn’t given enough to do as the hard case, Flaco.
2016 was a great year for Mahershala Ali. After an Oscar winning performance in Moonlight, and performances in Hidden Figures, Free State of Jones, Luke Cage and House of Cards, it is no surprise his turn in Kicks is one of the film’s highlights. Playing Brandon’s Uncle, he gives his nephew some valuable life lessons in that calm, measured tone, Jahking Guillory’s performance is at its best when these two share some of the tougher, more atmospheric moments together.
Visually, there’s a lot to absorb in Kicks. From the photography to the use of slow motion and the title cards which signal each new Hip-Hop track (signifying each new chapter), the design is engaging and perpetuates the tone and aesthetic. The use of spoken word lyrics lends itself to a more romantic view of childhood’s journey into adolescence which presses ahead to manhood when each new Hip-Hop track bursts forth. There’s one element that fails to work so well, and that’s the inclusion of a phantom astronaut (no, I’m not making that up), whose presence is briefly summed up in the final reel but the execution seems overly ponderous and is ill fitting with the rest of the movie.
Overall I admire what director Justin Tipping has done with Kicks. This is more than a boys-own story of grabbing the croc by the tail and holding on. While some of the poetic elements seem like an overreach I’m eager to see what this director and the stars deliver next.
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