There’s a new superhero in town, and he’s got both the sleight of hand and the upper hand. As a science whiz and a master of wizardry, the hero of “Sleight,” Bo (Jacob Latimore), has implanted an electromagnet into his shoulder — much like Tony Stark’s implanted arc reactor — that wires into his arm and fingertips to enhance telekinesis and levitation routines for his magical illusion acts. Seriously though, if David Blaine and Iron Man had a baby together, it would be this kid. Although “Sleight” contains all the right inventive sci-fi concepts that have the capability to break through a gratifying story, the film forgets to uphold that unique crux and, instead, presents somewhat disingenuous characters and chunks of bland exposition.
A year after his mother’s passing, Bo turned down a full engineering scholarship in order to take care of his little sister at home. To put a steady roof over their heads, he performs as a mind-bending street magician in Los Angeles by day and toils grinding hours as a shifty, small-time drug dealer by night to pocket sufficient earnings. All his drug gigs involve smooth hustling until his relation with the abrasive, yet cartoonish drug kingpin, Angelo (Dule Hill), turns rancorous after Bo cuts products for his own profit. Angelo coerces Bo into shelling out a ridiculous amount of money within a short week otherwise he’ll put he and his sister’s life at stake. Realizing he must abolish the vicious mess he collapsed into, Bo decides to mete out punishment against his adversary and serve a deck of justice with his powerful allies: Magic and science.
Though “Sleight” isn’t a fully-fledged superhero movie, it certainly has the potential to be one. Like most origin stories, it takes time for the friction or the “super” element of the character to be ignited, so the plot does begin at a plodding pace, unfortunately falling monotonous and flat. For audiences that expect to see bulks of rambunctious and wily sorcery a la “Now You See Me,” this film might be a let down for it doesn’t deliver many uber mind-whirling illusions. Rather, its first 80 minutes are a slow burn drama that consistently reiterate the plaintive yet trite narrative of an intelligent kid who veers off the high road and into deep-seated complicity. It’s not a sin if the protagonist’s vulnerability and emotions are more centralized, but for a movie titled “Sleight,” it might be misleading to those seeking an action-oriented movie with clever twists.
As a story set up for emotion, most of the characters’ dialogues, especially between the supportive characters and Bo, don’t stimulate empathetic responses that are conducive for an immersive film. Bo’s girlfriend and best friend both seem to ask generic questions that don’t really emit concern or awareness into Bo’s intense anxiety and fear against an evildoer like Angelo. Not to mention, Angelo is supposed to be a formidable personality, but the stipulations he sets forth for Bo seem too farcical to be frightening and malicious, like dragooning Bo into dismembering a rival drug lord’s hand — which made me raise an eyebrow more than be in a state of shock.
However, it wasn’t until the finale when the climactic point really drove the story home. Like a magician, director J.D. Dillard knows how to save the best trick of the night for last, so perhaps a sleepy 80-minute lull is worth it (unless you’re already fast asleep). For a low-budget debut film and thus a low-budget special effects department, it was productive for those visuals to be retained in an efficacious and final beatdown, one which ferments a lasting impression. The much anticipated sci-fi component of the story heftily ties in at the end, concomitantly showcasing the maximum power Bo can possess. The climax was probably the most, and only, authentically thrilling and satisfying moment since I couldn’t help but profile Bo from a potential superhero standpoint. And honestly, I’m on board with the creation of a new crusader against crime.
Verdict: On the surface, the film spellbinds an unconvincing plot and characters, but on a deeper level, Bo’s character provides a glimpse of how technical and dauntless the world of magic is. It really strikes a chord since science and magic are obvious foils, but people rarely notice how much they complement and rely on each other. Claimed as a sci-fi film, “Sleight” could have explored more on those two analogous realms. If only there were a magic trick to make the prolonged, one-dimensional drama disappear, then “Sleight” would have been a fresh take on an occult superhero franchise.