I recall being in middle school and fellow students and friends being wholeheartedly excited about their new shoes. Step on someone’s new Jordans and it isn’t going to get pretty. “Kicks” is made in this vein, only the shoes represent something more than a product manufactured in some factory. It’s the representation of a better life, of a dream that sometimes feels unattainable. Director and co-writer Justin Tipping creates a world that’s realistic, yet somehow strangely detached. It’s a hard balance to strike and Tipping often strays without intention in an urban film that plays with a few styles that mostly work, but that don’t always mesh well.
Brandon (Jahking Guillory), a teenager living in a rough neighborhood, avoids the bullies by keeping his head down, his shyness working to not draw attention to himself. That is, until he buys a pair of black and red Air Jordans that make him feel like he’s just won the lottery. “Sometimes I wish I had a spaceship. I’d hang out in space where it’s quiet, and no one could fuck with me.” And these words permeate the entire film as Brandon often sees an image of an astronaut looking back at him, reaching for him, trying to connect with him. Not too long after, Brandon’s kicks are stolen by Flaco (Kofi Siriboe). Angry, Brandon comes out of his shell and sets himself on a mission to get his kicks back.
“Kicks” tries out a lot of various styles, sometimes simultaneously. Hip-hop music is a large part of the burgeoning story. And while this adds to the overall atmosphere, there are segments of the film that, due to the different artistic styles, don’t blend well together. Brandon is really adamant about getting his shoes back, to the surprise of his friends (Christopher Jordan Wallace, Christopher Meyer). Now that he’s on this journey, it forces him to more thoroughly participate in his surroundings. And with his dream of getting his kicks back meeting him around every corner, his reality is one that pushes the boundaries, forcing him to do whatever it takes to get those shoes, at one point wielding a gun to do so.
Tipping’s voyage into the urban setting isn’t what we’ve come to expect. While there are is action taking place and people living, there is something about it that is also heavily quiet and restrained. There are also practically no authority figures around, save for the wonderful Mahershala Ali, whose brief screen time is heavily relied upon to pass along some wisdom to young Brandon, even though it takes awhile to get to this moment. And really, Ali is the highlight of the film as his presence and words to Brandon provide the film with a bit more focus. Because ultimately, “Kicks” is unique in its take on a great message, but too often we find Brandon being less of an agent of his own journey, making the film feel occasionally aimless in its slower moments.
Justin Tipping's voyage into the urban setting isn't what we've come to expect. While there are is action taking place and people living, there is something about it that is also heavily quiet and restrained. "Kicks" is unique in its take on a great message, but too often we find Brandon being less of an agent of his own journey, making the film feel aimless in its slower moments.