Sleight

3 out of 5

Directed by J.D. Dillard

A lightweight but amusing mingling of thriller and slice-of-life elements – dashed with some ultimately underwhelming fantasy – Sleight teases us with a grabbing opening half before losing its way in its attempts to escalate the stakes.

Bo is going his own: Foregoing a promising scholarship to care for his younger sister due to the loss of both of his parents, a frontload dump of info that’s appreciably handled gracefully, succinctly, and with a minimum of unnecessary strings-swelling or exposition.  Tina, said younger sister, is all sorts of intelligent and sweet, and the siblings seem to have a fantastic and respectful relationship; upping the feel-good ante is how ___ pays the bills: by being a quite charming street magician.  The scenes showing off Bo’s skills are their own form of sleight within the context of the film, as the sense of wonder of his audience is juxtaposed against some extra information we receive: the lengths to which Bo goes to pull off a trick, and that Bo’s other job happens to be selling drugs.  There’s initially no judgement on these acts (again, no music cues telling us to be sad), and we see the faint skeins if logic that led to this point.  With the drug sales, there’s even a bit of humor: this is commonplace stuff, after all, and not everyone is a crazy crack fiend or hard-edged dealer.

Unfortunately, the same thought process can’t be applied to Bo’s supplier, Angelo, played with impressive turn-on-a-dime viciousness by Dulé Hill.

When Sleight is grinning at us with Magic tricks, and letting us in to the managed struggles of this brother / sister duo, it’s quite pleasant.  When Bo meets a girl, Holly, you get tingly feel-good feelings.  And the drug angle adds an interesting component, even while we know that’s probably from whence troubles will come.

And indeed they do.  In short order, Bo is wrapped into a bloody gang feud.  His girlfriend is brought up to speed and involved; his family gets threatened; he – of course – decides to use Magic in his plans for setting things right.

And here Sleight isn’t quite sure how to balance itself.  It maintains a good sense of momentum and internal logic, but as it becomes less drama and more thriller, it, ironically loses the “magic” of its initial earnestness and becomes somewhat faceless.  This isn’t to say that the beginning is amazing and the ending horrible, more that trying to tie things together too concisely necessitates a shift in gears that trivializes the family and magic themes.

An interesting and worthwhile view nonetheless.

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