Sleight (2017) Movie Review

By: Bill Arceneaux (Beer Four) –

In every sense, I can fully appreciate a small budgeted indie flick that manages to reach more screens and eyeballs than normal. Sleight, the co-production of Blumhouse Tilt and WWE Studios, was made for about a quarter of a million dollars (according to wikipedia). When watching, you will for sure see every cent filmed and used well, at least in regards to special effects. Of course, those sequences are few and far between (understandably), but when they occur, they are done precisely.

Precision in execution and placement of action does not equal excellence overall, I’m afraid. Ironically, the main thing to appreciate here – the low budget – was also the movie’s number one hindrance.

A Toast

I believe I read somewhere, sometime in the past, that young actor Jacob Latimore was being pushed to play Miles Morales for a Spider-Man film. I hadn’t seen his work prior to Sleight, but I can say that having now seen him, his chops and talent will only grow. In playing the parentless brother / caregiver role, I got a smidge of early Michael B. Jordan from him. He has kind eyes and wisdom with a touch of naivety. Even as his character’s predicament unravels into drug dealing, he maintains a wonderful relatability as the soon to be heroic protagonist.

Not to be outdone, director J.D. Dillard meshes scenes of body horror and sci fi / superhero genres together well, even under a silly if gritty and plausible underground kingpin world. Sometimes it all clashes hard, coming off a little awkward, but the ideas and individual moments (like a scar / infection looking like a third eye) mean so much.

Beer Two

Did I write that themes and ideas clash “hard” in this movie? They do, but perhaps I should’ve written that they crash and decimate one another at times. Sleight treads familiar territory with the 90s film Fresh, which was also about a young kid plotting to save his family and leave gang life. In that movie, the hero plays a complex and very strategic and cold game of real life chess to guarantee escape and safety. Sleight chooses not to play chess or even checkers, opting for a sort of superpower origin tale, which certainly reflects today’s pop culture. The game played out is more tic tac toe than anything, if your opponent is a foreign exchange student or something.

Too much time is spent on the trouble he’s in and not on using his gifts and mind on getting out. Things are handled like someone who isn’t exceptional. Like someone who doesn’t know tricks or science. Maybe that’s the “point”, but it doesn’t make for a clever, smart, or deep movie. It hits only one note, and that note is played on a repeat loop. The Prestige this is not.

Beer Three

While Sleight is definitely the best crafted and best looking WWE Studios film EVER, by more traditional standards, it’s awfully bland. Shot compositions, creative design, camera movements – all just look ho hum and merely ok. Usually, low budget features make up for their lack of money with immense skill and heart, turning lemons into lemonade so to speak. Perhaps the stress was great, perhaps poor editorial choices were made, I dunno. But when given cactus, they simply made water. Which, if I understand correctly, is pretty straightforward.

Beer Four

Dule Hill plays the charismatic drug tycoon villain, who has a penchant for wanting “respect” and for giving boisterous line delivery. Did he think he was in a comedy? Did the rest of the dealers think that too? While things do escalate for our lead, the bad guys don’t seem to move along with the tension that’s supposed to be. Instead, they – including Dule – just play template music video background characters. Birdman music video characters.

Suspense? More like “suspension of disbelief”.

Verdict

There’s some sparkle and pizazz in Sleight, but not nearly enough to clamor over. The body horror aspects (what little there is) lead me to believe that Dillard will make The Fly something worthy of its Cronenberg predecessor, but ONLY IF he REALLY lets loose. With what I assume will be a bigger budget, this is possible. Until then, look beyond the tricks or the marketing trade; this is NOT Chronicle OR Iron Man. Not even slightly.

Sleight (2017) Drinking Game

Take a Drink: for each instance of card magic.

Take a Drink: whenever Dule Hill overdoes his performance.

Do a Shot: if you can see J.D. Dillard tackling The Fly after this.

About Bill Arceneaux

Independent film critic from New Orleans and member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA).

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