FilmMuse: Justin Tipping's "Kicks"

With Straight Outta Compton being released in 2015 to blockbuster box office numbers and critical acclaim, perhaps there is a renewed interest in the "hood drama" genre that saw such sustained popularity in the 90s as films such as Menace II Society, Boyz n the Hood and Juice reached classic status amid cable and home video ubiquity. With a clever new west coast tale, Justin Tipping's directorial debut Kicks offers a few nuggets to instantly hook hip-hop die hards: a plot revolving around a stolen pair of Air Jordan I sneakers and a strong supporting role from the son of the Notorious BIG (Christopher Jordan Wallace).

Tipping screens quotes from a vintage rap verse as Kicks moves on from each chapter, as the Napoleon-complex suffering Brandon from "Eastbay" Richmond, California (Jahking Guillory) embarks on a journey to first obtain the coveted black and red Jordans, before being jumped by bullies and then having them stolen, and finally his reckless quest to get his shoes back.

With cinematography in lane with the iPhone shot realism of Sean S. Baker's Tangerine, Tipping makes us feel like part of the clique, hanging out with Brandon and his two friends as they navigate the joys and dangers of teen life in "Eastbay." The boys steal "forties" and chug them at the park while they shoot hoops and flirt with girls; freestyle rapping and minding the scuff marks on their fresh pairs of sneakers. As Brandon begins to fly too close to the sun, the viewer is compelled and frustrated by his foolish actions to be a "man" in the eyes of his criminal Uncle Marlon, his peers and the neighborhood gang who robbed him for his shoes.

Kicks is laced with a cool soundtrack and dazzling imagery, weaving startling portrayals of inner-city life and mesmerizing dream sequences of Brandon's fantasy of being an astronaut. Brandon wishes he could fly away in a spaceship to where no one can bother him. Instead he's stuck on a vessel he can't escape and he wages a war against his most feared enemy "Flaco" (the brilliant Kofi Siriboe) that untangles into a riveting climax that untangles every string in the heart.

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