Sneak Peek: Kicks
In Justin Tipping’s feature debut Kicks, nothing is as simple as it seems. Fifteen-year-old Brandon longs for a pair of the freshest sneakers that money can buy; assuming that merely having them on his feet will help him escape the reality of being poor, neglected by the opposite sex and picked on by everyone — even his best friends. Working hard to get them, he soon finds that the titular shoes have instead made him a target after they are promptly snatched by local hood, Flaco. Seemingly the embodiment of menace, Flaco harbors complexities of his own that will be revealed when Brandon goes on a mission to retrieve his stolen sneakers with his two best friends in tow.
Boasting a strong ensemble cast and featuring a memorable lead performance by newcomer Jahking Guillory, the film transcends a deceptively traditional hero’s journey to deliver an entertaining and sobering look at the realities of inner-city life, the concept of manhood and the fetishization of sneaker culture. Visually and thematically rich, with an amazing soundtrack of both hip-hop classics and Bay Area favorites, Kicks creates an authentic and original portrait of a young man drowning in the expectations of machismo.
Starring: Jahking Guillory, Christopher Jordan Wallace (Notorious), Christopher Meyer (“Wayward Pines”), Kofi Siriboe (“Queen Sugar”), and Mahershala Ali (“House of Cards”)
Directed by: Justin Tipping
Written by: Justin Tipping & Joshua Beirne-Golden
Produced by: David Kaplan (It Follows), Adele Romanski (Morris from America), Joshua Astrachan (Short Term 12), Michael Covino
This transcript has been lightly edited:
The Referee: The Critic got a chance to see a Sneak Peek of a new movie, coming out September 9, called “Kicks.” And, it is quite the movie, directed by Justing Tipping and written by Justin Tipping, as well. But, he also wrote it with Joshua Beirne [“Bernie”] -Golden, we’ll say. It’s starring some newcomers — a couple of familiar names —
The Critic: Yeah.
Ref: Jahking Guillory. Christopher Jordan Wallace, who’s Biggie’s and Faith Evans’ son.
Ref: Christopher Meyer. And, also, a familiar face: Mahershala Ali is also poking in there. Tell us a little bit about “Kicks.”
Critic: The title tells you what it’s about. It’s about some kicks!
Critic: There we go. And, in particular, the original Jordans. Jahking Guillorg plays the lead character. He doesn’t have a lot of money; his mother works all the time. We don’t even see her (laughing) in the movie — she’s working so much. You know, he’s in high school, maybe. But he’s little.
Ref: He’s like 15.
Critic: Yeah, yeah, so, high school — but he’s a little 15. You know, his two friends, played by Christopher Meyer and Christopher Jordan Wallace — (laughing) they’re much bigger. And, you know, they have their shoes. Everyone around has shoes. He doesn’t. He has some really worn-down, terrible shoes.
Critic: Yeah. And, they’re his only pair. But, it’s so nice; what I liked about it is, he has friends. You know, it’s not like he is bullied, or anything, for that, necessarily. So, he has friends, and the thing is: What are the limits of this friendship? Because, Ref, he finds a way to get those Jordans.
Critic: Oh, yes, he does. But, we all know, sometimes, if you walk in the wrong place with some fresh kicks —
Critic: — somebody else is gonna want ‘em.
Ref: Oh, my! My, my, my!
Critic: So, what happens is: It becomes a revenge tale for him. He seeks this guy who stole his kicks. Now, this is NOT someone you need to be seeking. He’s dangerous: he has guns; he’s much bigger than him. So, he starts to put people around him — in particular, his friends — in trouble —
Critic: — because of this. He can’t let it go. And, Mahershala Ali comes in as his cousin.
Ref: Oh, the cousin that you always have to have! (laughter) That cousin!
Critic: Yeah, he even tries to tell him: “Look, are you sure you want to go down this road?” OK? So, that’s basically what happens. I don’t want to give too much away. Now, the director, Justin Tipping, and co-writer, as you noted: This is based on one of his real-life experiences.
Ref: Oh, my goodness.
Critic: Yeah, unfortunately, it is. He also talked about, in an interview, “The Bicycle Thief” — a classic film, if you haven’t seen it, which is similar: Steal the bicycle? I need to get it back. Steal my kicks? I need to get it back. So, you can see those things. Visually, it’s great. I mean, it looked like “Rize,” the documentary about that dancing style — a mix of that. I mix of “The Signal,” which starred Laurence Fishburne. “Fruitvale Station,” ‘cause they’re in The Bay Area. And, Justin Tipping is that kind of director who knows old boy who directed “Fruitvale Station,” OK? Ryan Coogler.
Ref: Oh! Ryan. Yeah.
Critic: So, we have lots of connections going on, here. So, visually, it’s wonderful, and the feeling — even when it wasn’t working — the feeling was always right. It really has nice feel to it. Now, these are teenagers, talking.
Critic: There is no censorship. You get —
Ref: Oh, wow!
Critic: — every word under the sun, over and over and over and over again. You get a little bit of drugs; you get a little bit of sex. All of that’s in here. But, I do think it’s worth it, just to see a new director announce himself.
Critic: So, you know, at the end, I didn’t know. Because, Justin was trying to give us a bigger point: Is this worth it? Right? Is it really worth it? Also, what’s going on in the inner cities: an indictment of that. Or, not even an indictment, but just highlighting that to say, “Can we do better?”
Critic: Can we continue to let this go on? Those are the questions that he raises. I don’t know if it nails it, though, on that level. So, you know, I could see someone easily missing those points. With that said, if this sounds interesting to you, I think it’s worthwhile to see in a theater, just to get it visually. But, just know, this is not for the faint of heart.
Ref: (laughing) You mean me. (laughter)
Critic: Also, what I want to add in, here, is —
Critic: — young Mr. Christopher Jordan Wallace: He provides a lot of the humor, along with Christopher Meyer. So, you do get that, which is nice, because it’s not too dark and heavy. I don’t want to throw that in there. It gets there, but he does balance — Tipping balances that. And that’s excellent. So, it really does have a lot of funny moments. So, you know what? I kind of enjoyed it. Can you tell?
Ref: You know what? I’m glad. (laughter) Well, thanks, Critic. Again, this comes out September 9 — “Kicks,” at a theater near you.