Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jacob Latimore, Seychelle Gabriel, Dulé Hill, Storm Reid, Sasheer Zamata, Michael Villar, Brandon Johnson, Cameron Esposito, Andrew Fitzpatrick, Jay Walker, Frank Clem, Mane Andrew, Alex Hyner, Elizabeth Grullon, Lyndsi LaRose
Written by: Alex Theurer, J.D. Dillard
Directed by: J.D. Dillard
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, drug content and some violence
Running Time: 89
Date: 04/28/2017

Sleight (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Trick or Street

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In his solo feature debut, director by J.D. Dillard brings this under-the-radar drama close to genre cliches but deftly avoids them with its strong characters, fine storytelling, and vivid atmosphere.

In Sleight, Bo (Jacob Latimore) is a young Los Angeles street magician who does amazing card tricks, but who specializes in making metal objects move and float. After the death of his parents, Bo must take care of his younger sister Tina (Storm Reid), and to make ends meet, he sells drugs for Angelo (Dulé Hill).

He also meets the pretty Holly (Seychelle Gabriel) while performing a trick on her ring, and they immediately hit it off. Unfortunately, when rival dealers move into their territory, Angelo recruits Bo for a dangerous job, involving guns. Bo decides to get out, but Angelo catches him cutting the drugs and demands retribution: $45,000 in one week. And to drive home his point, Angelo kidnaps Tina. Can Bo save the day?

The performances in Sleight are the strong point, with Jacob Latimore creating a sympathetic, kind, and yet believable drug dealer. Seychelle Gabriel never lets us doubt for a second that she and the main character could have an instant attraction, and Dulé Hill is quite scary and effective as a sophisticated drug lord.

Even the marginal characters seem to have inner lives; a next-door neighbor talks about how much she's been studying lately, and a drug lackey talks about his upcoming mix-tape. The physical space feels alive and used in ways that supports the story, and the magic tricks seem magical and not overcooked visual effects.

Best of all is the way that Dillard never lets the "superpower" aspect of the movie get too out of hand (there are no explosions), nor does he follow any of the obvious threads to end his story. His actual final scene is like the conclusion of a great magic trick; it elicits a "wow."

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