It’s a classic plot: our heroes go on a Quest to attain a great Prize but must overcome many Obstacles to do so. And, along the way, they might fall in love, just a little. In this case, we have a couple of streetwise teenage Bronx graffiti artists, Malcolm (Ty Hicks) and Sofia (Tashiana Washington). And what they want to do is “bomb” the New York Mets Home Run Apple.
“Like, terrorists?” one naïve character asks when she hears their plan. No, it means they want to cover the icon with their graffiti signatures, so that the next time the Mets score and the apple pops into view, they’ll be famous.
OK, so it’s not like destroying the Death Star, avenging your murdered father or even winning the Big Race. But this plot line is enough to make festival-circuit hit “Gimme the Loot” one of the most refreshing no-budget films to come out in a while. It harks back to the mid-1990s, when indie films were plentiful, scruffy and celebrated.
This comic summertime picaresque starts and ends with some casual shoplifting. Sofia and Malcolm bundle the most cans of spray paint they’re able to fit under their T-shirts, then hoof it outside the hardware store to a getaway car driven by older, tattoo-speckled ex-convict Champion (Meeko).
Angry to find that a rival gang has marked up their last wallside masterpiece, Malcolm and Sofia think up a way to prove themselves by finally nailing that mythic goal, the apple. (Apparently it has been the grail for New York City “taggers” for decades.) And hey, Sofia asks, don’t we know a boxer named Pedro who works at Shea Stadium, who can maybe sneak us in?
Well, yeah. Pedro says he can do it … for $500. So, with a two-day deadline, until the next Mets game, the kids spin off in opposite directions through the city streets, trying to raise the loot, by selling weed or settling debts with people who owe them. Not a lot of their schemes go right. Malcolm, though, thinks he’s scored big time when he delivers some dope to Ginnie (Zoë Lescaze, who looks like the love child of Amy Adams and Cynthia Nixon). Arty and spoiled, she lives surrounded by tchotchkes from her world travels and has a key to her parents’ jewelry box.
To give too many more specifics might spoil the pleasure of the movie’s casually inconsequential plot. Its main fun is following Sofia and Malcolm through a summertime in New York that looks at times as squalid or as sylvan as cinematographer Alexander Gruszynski can make it. Hicks and Washington have terrific chemistry as they badger and banter with each other in the most blistering terms. Anybody who is easily offended by profanity or sexual talk should stay far away. Despite (or maybe because of) the frank language, there’s a sweet whiff of innocence hovering over the duo. They seem likely to be the last to realize that they may have potential to be more than just a tag team.
“Gimme the Loot” is sometimes as idealized as it is tough-talking. There’s virtually no older generation in sight. Crimes occur, but with the sense of invincibility that youth confers. Racial politics are lightly touched on, but not ignored. Though we’ve watched Sofia repeatedly shout down tough brown and black guys twice her height and weight, when she comes face to face with pale, fair Ginnie, she’s struck dumb. It’s a quietly devastating moment.
That this first feature is written and directed by a geeky-looking white man named Adam Leon might raise some eyebrows and questions of “authenticity” from some quarters. But Leon did what seems to be a respectful job of cultural immersion, and working things through with his young, talented cast. Besides, the movie is ultimately too spirited and good-natured to question where it’s coming from, or from whom.
“Gimme the Loot.” With Tashiana Washington, Ty Hicks, Zoë Lescaze. Written and directed by Adam Leon. Unrated. 79 minutes. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.
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