The marketing for Sleight includes a quote calling the film “Chronicle meets Iron Man.” Watching it, that comparison kind of makes sense, but it also sets up an unrealistic expectation versus what Sleight actually is.
Co-written and directed by newcomer J.D. Dillard, Sleight is the story of a science wiz named Bo (Jacob Latimore), a kid who should be in school but is forced to be the primary caretaker for his little sister Tina (Storm Reid). He does that in two ways—street magic and selling drugs—which also happen to be perfect metaphors for the duality of Sleight.
When Sleight is about magic, it earns those lofty comparisons. The on-screen tricks are wonderful and a perfect showcase for Latimore’s swagger. Every time we see that side of Bo, his happy-go-lucky side, the movie becomes something greater than itself. It feels fresh, new and exciting. The problem is the magic is very much secondary to everything else in the movie. Mainly, the story of Bo’s struggles with his sister and drug dealer. This drama, which makes up the bulk of the movie, simply isn’t nearly as entertaining or impactful.
More than it is about magic, Sleight is really about a boy forced to become a man way too soon. Bo should be enjoying the benefits of his top-notch brain but, instead, he’s hustling and breaking the law. Latimore and Reid have great chemistry as brother and sister and that relationship grounds the movie in a sad reality, a reality that’s only tolerable for Bo through blossoming relationship with Holly (Seychelle Gabriel). She’s a welcome bright spot considering, most of the time, he’s just getting sucked deeper and deeper into the drug world led by Angelo (Dule Hill).
Those three stories: Bo and his sister, girlfriend, and boss, keep Sleight afloat. Unfortunately, they all feel relatively familiar. We’ve seen so many movies about sad, unfortunate circumstances like these and Sleight doesn’t do much to add to that conversation. It’s a perfectly well-acted and well-written storyline that feels like drawn-out filler between the fun stuff
By the end though, Dillard and co-writer Alex Theurer bring the magic and reality together in a way that makes any trepidations you felt about the rest of the movie mostly melt away. The climax is that “Chronicle meets Iron Man” you were hoping for from the first frames of the film. It’s just a shame that they couldn’t find more ways to cohesively blend those two elements more throughout the film.
Sleight is a strong feature debut for Dillard with great moments that tend to pick up the more humdrum bulk of the film. It’s definitely uneven, but the glorious, jaw-dropping climax is worth the price of admission alone.
Sleight is now in theaters.