The film follows the story of Brandon, a 15-year old outsider who lives in a rough neighborhood in Richmond, Calif. Growing up poor and unnoticed by girls, along with the general confusion of adolescence, has lead Brandon to conclude that the key to acceptance is owning a pair of his dream sneakers, the iconic red and black Air Jordan 1s. After scrimping together some cash, he buys a pair from a local hustler who deals them out of the back of his vehicle. No sooner does Brandon attain his fantasy footwear then they are stolen from him by a local hood, Flaco. Brandon then goes on a journey to confront not only Flaco but himself.
Kicks is glum. It shines a hard light on America’s obsession with “things.” It should be no surprise that a country founded on the concept of capitalism is so focused on consumer goods as the high water mark for success and happiness, but it still is. Without spoiling key incidents of the film, the viewer will be shocked by the lengths that Brandon goes in order to retrieve his property but also the means which Flaco will go to keep it.
Kicks is also a coming-of-age story. It follows Brandon’s journey from introverted adolescent/outsider to “man” in the most literal Old West sense. It is a grittier reimagination of the tremendous 1987 cult classic, Three O’Clock High, which is the story of a high school nerd set on a collision course with a bully.
There are a number of surreal dream-like sequences involving Brandon having visions of an astronaut woven throughout the picture. The astronaut seems to represent his perception of manhood and wealth. The fact that it’s embodied by an astronaut implies that Brandon views those concepts as so unattainable, so otherworldly, that they are nearly impossible to achieve. Considering the incredible poverty and sadness that surrounds him in his neighborhood and household, it’s not a ridiculous conclusion.
I think the movie suffers by being released in a close time period to The Land, which is set in a similar landscape and follows a comparable story arc. However, The Land is a far superior film. Where The Land soars, Kicks stumbles. Other than a key piece of subtext that rounds out Flaco, most of the characters have a one-dimensional hollowness to them. And the film runs out of plot about two-thirds of the way through. It is padded with musical vignettes that, I assume, were designed to reflect poignancy but in reality are little more than filler biding time until the inevitable confrontation occurs.
Kicks desperately wants to be a nuanced, meaningful film but it too clearly and loudly wears its intentions on it sleeves to do so to any effect. Director/writer Justin Tipping succinctly voices his opinions about poverty and machismo. However, there is little for the viewer to mine below the surface. More problematic is that a chunk of the film can be politely described as boring.
This is a respectable effort by a first-time director. Tipping seamlessly conveys a strong sense of place and time. It very much feels of 2016.The sound design and direction of photography are top notch. That being said, it lacks the depth and body consistent with that of an elite feature-length picture. Kicks is ok but certainly not great.
-Zep the Bear