Dec 25, 2018
Merry Christmas to all of those who celebrate out there, and a Happy Holidays the rest of you. We’re continuing to crush our way through some recent offerings on HBO, with today being a different kind of superhero film, one that I would love to see a whole lot more of on the big screen. Only six more episodes for the year, before we begin our transition to the new, expanded format. We’ve been delivering daily podcasts for almost an entire year, available freely to the universe. If you are interested in giving back, however, head over to patreon.com/onemoviepunch to sign up as a monthly sponsor. If you need that money, though, then just drop us a review wherever you subscribe to podcasts, or share this episode with your friends and family. Anything you can do to support the podcast is appreciated.
Today’s movie is “Sleight” (2017), the BH Tilt and WWE Studios superhero film directed by J.D. Dillard and written for the screen in collaboration with Alex Theurer. The film follows Bo (Jacob Latimore), a Los Angeles street magician by day, and a small-time drug dealer by night, struggling to make ends meet to support his little sister Tina (Storm Reid). When he finally gets in too deep with his boss Angelo (Dulé Hill), he must use all his skills to rescue himself and his sister.
Hollywood has been on a spending spree, vacuuming up intellectual properties for media development, most especially superhero properties in the wake of the immense success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From the greatest and most popular heroes with special powers in the skies to the grittiest, low-tech vigilantes on the street, each story echoes the mythological stories of old gods and protagonists, and the incredible ability for science and technology to extend our own capability to influence the world. The major publishing houses now have shared universes, with more on the way, and it leaves the idea of an independent superhero film somewhat of an oddity, mostly because they tend to either modify another intellectual property enough to call it their own, or at least in part because they can’t leverage a shared universe of content to maintain a relationship with the audience. It takes a lot to create a truly unique superhero film, and I believe J.D. Dillard did just that with “Sleight”.
One of the ways to create a unique superhero story is to work with various trends within society, which contain ideas that may never have existed previously. Body modification as a concept has been around for a long period of time, but technological body modification is a relatively new concept. Everything from embedding RFID chips to open doors, to today’s self-made superhero Bo, who used his electrical engineering skills to implant an electromagnet into his shoulder and run it down to his hand, which enables him to perform amazing magnet feats in addition to the usual up close sleight of hand card tricks. The practical effects on the modification are well done, along with the special effects used to show the tricks. Both sets of skills have been used by previous superheroes, but we drop Bo in the middle of a way more realistic Los Angeles, well used as a location in the film. A single bullet can stop Bo, or as many superhero stories have explored, the lives of those around him. Despite the incredible power and skills he might have, Bo is just as weak and vulnerable as anyone else, and we feel that tension the whole way through the film, even as it draws towards its climactic scene.
Another refreshing aspect of “Sleight” is that we’re not dealing with a world-threatening situation or some elaborate supervillain, but someone who is a clever young man just trying to survive day to day. The supporting cast also feels incredibly real, and also struggle in their day-to-day lives to be something else, creating a very shared experience among all the characters, as opposed to the “man apart” tendency of some superheroes, both a part of and outside the community. Jacob Latimore make Bo believable, as the character grows out of his own rut and towards a new life. A vague stinger scene suggesting new powers, along with the obvious loose ends left by this initial story, beg for a sequel to be made, especially if it can keep to the same relatively small scope. We need more street-level superhero stories, from a diverse cast of voices, and J.D. Dillard makes that happen.
“Sleight” (2017) is a refreshingly unique voice for the superhero genre, one that eschews worldwide peril for a down-to-earth origin story, which tells a surprising amount of story in a relatively short amount of time. Jacob Latimore carries the lead character through a dangerous story, one that pushes the boundaries of the street-level superhero genre. Superhero fans, or fans of original superhero work, should definitely check out this film. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to Tomb Raider.
Rotten Tomatoes: 76% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
One Movie Punch: 8.4/10
“Sleight” (2017) is rated R and is currently streaming on HBO.