15-year-old Brandon longs for a pair of the freshest sneakers that money can buy to help him escape the reality of being poor and picked on by everyone. Working hard to get them, he soon finds that the titular shoes have instead made him a target after they are promptly snatched by a local hood. Brandon and his two best friends embark on a dangerous and exciting journey where nothing is as simple as it seems in this unique and memorable coming-of-age story.
"You gotta handle your business yourself."
When you're a kid and you're not the popular one, it's easy to recognize the appearance of the popular kids - more notably what they're wearing. As time goes on it gets easier and easier to feel like if you had the same shirt, the same cut of jeans, or even the same pair of shoes that you would somehow be catapulted to the upper echelon of your little click of friends. It's a universal desire, one that breaks all social barriers. Written and Directed by Justin Tipping and co-written by Joshua Beirne-Golden, 'Kicks' is a smart and poignant look at one young man's journey for self-respect.
Brandon (Jahking Guillory) doesn't have much. He's from the poor side of Richmond and virtually everything he has is second hand. His best friends Rico (Christopher Meyer) and Albert (Christopher Jordan Wallace) look right, talk right, have dreams and aspirations, and people like them. They notice them. They don't usually notice Brandon. They say the shoes make the man, and when Bandon gets his eyes on a pair of re-issue black and red Jordans, he's got to have them. When he drops by the local Niki store, the $350.00 is way beyond his price range. But when he's offered a steal of a deal out of the back of a van on his way home, Brandon can't resist handing over every dime he's ever earned.
At first, it's all fun and games. His friends want to hear how he got the shoes. Girls start to see Brandon and invite him over. People notice. The wrong people notice too. Wrong people like Flaco (Kofi Siriboe) and his crew. After smacking Brandon around and humiliating him, Flaco takes the Jordans, leaving Brandon to stew in it. To his friends, getting your shoes stolen is a way of life. But to Brandon, it's an insult to his pride. With nothing left holding him back, Brandon convinces Rico and Albert to trek down to Oakland to help him steal back his shoes from Flaco.
'Kicks' may be a tight urban coming of age drama that tends to get a little too unnecessarily artistic at times, but I'm more than willing to give these seemingly random flourishes a pass. Brandon has an astronaut as a sort of spirit animal of sorts. Whenever he's in a tight spot, the astronaut appears to give him a bit of guidance. Think of him more as an imaginary Jiminy The Cricket. These moments may be a bit heavy-handed, but they serve their purpose. At its heart, 'Kicks' about finding self-respect and taking pride in oneself. The fact that the crux of the story hinges on a pair of shoes is irrelevant, the shoes are just a symbol. They're merely the object that brings Brandon that sense of pride he never knew he had within himself. When those are taken away from him, he has to go out and reclaim that pride, even it tears his friendships apart.
I also appreciate how the film treats its side characters, especially Kofi Siriboe's Flaco. While initially presented as a terrible guy willing to take a little kid's shoes, there are multiple layers to the character that ultimately make him similar to Brandon. He's also a young man on a journey of pride and respect but has taken a darker path in life to get to where he's gotten. Then there is the all too brief appearance by Mahershala Ali as Brandon's Uncle Marlon. From 'Predators,' to his time on 'Treme' to his most recent turn on 'Luke Cage,' Mahershala Ali continues to impress me, even when he's only got a few moments of screen time. All that said, this is a movie about the younger generation of performers. Jahking Guillory, Christopher Meyer, and Christopher Jordan Wallace are very real and energetic young actors. Each of these actors get little moments in the film where they can stand out and shine. As Jahking Guillory's Brandon goes farther and farther down the rabbit hole, Meyer and Wallace give their respective characters that very real sense of conflicted loyalty.
I went into 'Kicks' without any preconceived notions about what I was going to see. in fact, I hadn't even seen the trailer before firing up this Blu-ray release. I only saw the interesting cover artwork and thought I'd give it a whirl. While I wouldn't say that 'Kicks' was the best film of the year by any stretch, I will say that I was very impressed by it and I was invested in the characters throughout their wild odyssey. If you're game for trying something new or a little out of the box that is your traditional comfort zone, give 'Kicks' a look.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Kicks' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Universal Home Video and is pressed onto a Region Free BD50 disc. The disc is housed in a standard Blu-ray case with identical slipcover. Also included is a Digital HD voucher slip. The disc loads to trailers for upcoming Universal releases before arriving at a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
Presented with a digitally sourced 2.40:1 transfer, 'Kicks' looks fantastic. Detail levels are rich and strong allowing for plenty of facial features to arrive on screen. Middle ground characters and objects, as well as deep background objects, come through with terrific detail. Black levels are rich and inky black allowing for a terrific sense of depth and dimension to the image. Colors are bright with plenty of natural primary pop and healthy natural skin tones. Free of any compression artifacts or video noise, this is a near-flawless looking transfer.
'Kicks' earns solid marks for a strong and present yet subtle English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix. Surround activity is always present making great use of the sides and rear channels, but it never feels out of placed or forced. Most of the quiet and conversational moments tend to sound a bit more front/center channel loaded, but there are plenty of ambient noises to fill the scene and make it feel lively. Imaging is strong throughout with plenty of channel movement. Dialogue is always clean and clear to hear without any overlap or distortion skewing the mix. Certain moments, especially the Brian Reitzel score, have a nice LFE presence that gives the mix a nice sense of dread and ominous dark tones. All around, a solid mix for a little movie.
Kicks: One on One: (HD 2:31) This is an incredibly brief EPK bonus feature that doesn't really provide a whole lot of depth or behind the scenes information.
Photo Gallery: (HD 3:28)
Maybe it was because I wasn't expecting much of anything from 'Kicks' that I responded so well to it, but on the flip side of that coin, I thought it was a genuinely well-made movie. Universal Home Video brings 'Kicks' to Blu-ray with a fantastic A/V presentation. Sadly, extra features are virtually nonexistent and I really would have loved to learn more about the production, the casting, and shooting on location. That said, I'm still calling 'Kicks' recommended, I can see a few people out there taking a liking to this one.