Between Marvel, DC, and Fox constantly duking it out, all churning out one superhero blockbuster after another, it might be fair to say that the genre is only slightly overcrowded and monopolized between the three heavyweights, leaving little to no room for the little guys. However, from the producers of Get Out, Sleight bravely tests unwelcome waters, modestly attempting to break the mold and breathe new life into a genre that has become so filled with spectacle that any sense of realism and humanity too often get lost in the shuffle, only with the occasional exception.
Writer/director/music video veteran J.D. Dillard, keeps it fresh and simple with his first feature, impressively conjuring something that feels original with a budget that barely dents that of a major studio spectacle. Perhaps that’s exactly what makes Sleight as great and enjoyable as it is — it’s so ordinary and unassuming that it feels special, offering an earnestness that no other modern superhero blockbuster can and does.
The coming-of-age story follows a young man named Bo (Jacob Latimore, Collateral Beauty), who just after high school is suddenly left as an orphan with the loss of his mother, leaving him with the great responsibility of not only fending for himself, but also for his little sister. By day, Bo channels his fascination and love for magic on the streets, performing throughout Los Angeles and impressing locals and tourists alike with his irresistible charm and wit. But this is Los Angeles, after all — surviving in the city demands for much more than street tricks and tips alone, especially with the weight of responsibility he carries on his shoulders.
By night, then, Bo turns to his main source of income, selling drugs for a local cocaine kingpin named Angelo (Dulé Hill). This isn’t because he wants to, but it’s because he has to. Angelo is a performer all on his own, though, channeling different personalities depending on who he’s with and where he is. He seems nice enough to begin with, acting like a father figure to the parentless Bo, only to reveal himself later on as anything but family.
But Bo has no choice. Fresh after graduating high school, despite being loaded with potential for greatness, he’s held back by a burden of responsibility that no normal adolescent is equipped for. The cards he’s been dealt, however, have different plans laid out for his future, leaving him no other option but to accept the trials of his fate. After a deal gone wrong, Angelo lashes out and is no longer Mr. Nice Guy, demanding from Bo a sum that is essentially impossible for him to attain. This leaves the young hero scrambling for money, more than eager to leave this unwanted part of his life behind and start anew with his girlfriend and little sister.
Little does Angelo and his crew know, Bo has had more tricks under his sleeve than people have expected all along. The young man commits to his craft to a dangerous extent, with an homemade device implanted on his bicep that helps him manipulate metals as he performs magic tricks. Imagine him as the practical and far more likable version of the X-Men’s Magneto. Unlike him, though, Bo’s immense potential outweighs his scarce resources, constantly forcing him to be creative and make do with what he can manage to get. Whether or not he does pull off his greatest trick is the question, especially as it demands for far more power than he ever anticipated using his implant for.
Newcomer Jacob Latimore is clearly primed for stardom, portraying Bo with such warmth that it’s really difficult not to root for him every step of the way, even when the dialogue often feels generic and couldn’t have been hurt by a bit more punching up. No matter, the refreshing simplicity of Sleight is precisely its greatest strength, showing that true enough, superhero stories can actually be grounded in some semblance of reality.