It’s hard to explain to a non-movie lover how refreshing it is when genres are crossed or subverted. When we’re watching creativity and outside-the-box thinking in action. When a film opens the door to hypotheticals and what-ifs, taking you on an adventure before you barely begin to watch the film unfold. The excitement is inherent. But in order for the journey to be fulfilling, the filmmaker must ensure that he’s not relying on formulaic narratives–compromising his already-established uniqueness. Nor can he get so caught up in his own art that he disregards entirely what the audience wants out of the experience and, in fact, fails to answer some of those what-ifs in the process. The former is a misdemeanor, but the latter is a felony.
Sleight almost avoids both cases, without ever actually committing either crime. The formula it follows isn’t blatant, since it does actually take the natural course of events and makes them feel organic. But the film’s desire to avoid the formula may just be what causes it to be a little too artsy. It never ends up just letting go and having fun with the premise it’s established.
Consisting of a simple plot, Sleight still manages to bring realism to the superhero genre more than ever before, taking a minimalist approach, among other things. The film follows Bo (Jacob Latimore), a street magician who is taking care of his younger sister following their parents’ death. The money he makes busking isn’t enough, so he turns to a life of dealing drugs. After he deems it too late to back out, he realizes that working for a drug lord is far more dangerous than he expected. He tries using magic to get himself and his sister out of harm’s way.
I love the exposition. We don’t get all the information at once. It’s a slow reveal, but not frustratingly slow. Despite having a 90 minute runtime, the story feels long. Which is a good thing, as that means a lot happens.
Aside from some questions being raised–like why Bo doesn’t just explain things to Angelo–the movie covers most of its potentially-confusing tracks.
Luckily there is just enough humor to prevent the film from taking itself too seriously. It’s hard for a movie to be fun when there are some very raw scenes with people getting their hands gruesomely cut off by a drug dealer. Sleight is about as close as you can get.
Now with that said, you can make a case that there is still some unfulfilled potential here. It could have been much more fun. There’s magic, there’s a self-made superhero on the rise, yet there isn’t a lot of that showcased. Perhaps they’re saving it for a sequel–which it pleasantly sets itself up for–but why not showcase more of it in this one? It’s the same problem the 2015 Fantastic Four installment faces–all setup and not enough actual grandiose. But Sleight is still way ahead of that, since it builds up the process in a much more redeeming way.
The acting isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough. Latimore does fine, though some of his supporting cast are marginal at best. Exceptions are Dulé Hill does a great job as Angelo, the mercurial drug lord, and Storm Reid, who plays Bo’s sister, who’s a terrific find.
At times, but not always, Sleight gets wrapped up in its unique hook and tends to fall in love with it a little too much. The film is entertaining and suspenseful, which ultimately keeps our interest throughout. But maybe a little bit too real for those who just want a fun time at the movies. Either way, you have to respect what it’s trying to do.