Movie Review - Kicks (2016)

Mahershala Ali is probably going to be nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in Moonlight. However, most will ignore this movie in which he gives just as good a performance playing practically the exact same character but just with a different name. It's not confirmed if his character here is a drug dealer like he is in Moonlight, but he certainly has the same demeanor, the same swagger as it were. His is a supporting role in both films, so his screen time isn't that great, but his presence is strongly felt regardless if he's on camera or not. His function in both films is demonstrably similar. He's there to mentor or offer guidance to a young black kid about to be pulled into street violence, as a person well-versed in it himself.

Jahking Guillory stars as Brandon, the young black kid in question. He's a teenager, probably 13 or 14, maybe 15. However, he's significantly shorter than his friends or other kids his age. He also looks younger than he is. He looks like he's only 11 or 12. This makes him feel like he doesn't fit in high school. The only thing that makes him feel like he can be on equal footing with everyone else is if he has the new Air Jordan sneakers, which are the envy right now. Given that all the kids hang out on the basketball court and given how much their culture is a basketball culture, the Air Jordan sneakers make sense as a prized object of desire.

The child actors in Moonlight are going to get a heap of praise as the 89th Oscars grow nearer, but the child actors here led by Guillory are equally outstanding, if not more so. Guillory, through narration mostly, is able to be more verbal than the child actors in Moonlight. Yet, he comports himself extremely well and delivers the beats, a lot of the same beats as in Moonlight, with just as much heart. Christopher Meyer (NCIS: New Orleans and Wayward Pines) who plays Rico and Christopher Jordan Wallace (Notorious and Everything Must Go) who plays Albert are excellent in their roles as Brandon's best friends and sidekicks. Both are funny, charming and my hope is to see them on screen again soon.

Kofi Siriboe in 'Kicks'
Kofi Siriboe who was one of the breakout stars of Queen Sugar, the TV series by Ava DuVernay, is phenomenal here as a wild and violent thug named Flaco. He's scary. Yet, Siriboe has such a strong and magnetic presence on camera. One can't help but be drawn to him, and it's not just because of his dashing good looks, which can easily fluctuate from terrifying to tender. He's sexy, but like with Ali's character, Uncle Marlon, Flaco is appealing almost because of his acidity and toughness. He's a father whose love is hardness, a paradigm echoed in Denzel Washington's Fences.

Whether knowingly or not, director and co-writer Justin Tipping in his feature debut channels August Wilson. Tipping also embraces a little magical realism in the form of an astronaut who frequently visits Brandon. It's not a hallucination or an injection of science-fiction as in Donnie Darko. It's merely a visual metaphor of how Brandon feels through this story. It's also a clever way to connect to Mahershala Ali's other film this year, Hidden Figures, which also involves astronauts.

Rated for violence, drug / alcohol use, language and sexual content involving teens.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 27 mins.

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