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'Sleight' is a slight low budget version of a blockbuster

The very talented Jacob Latimore tries his best as an orphan using magic to escape his grim world.
Sleight
Jacob Latimore plays a magician who can do cool stuff like this in "Sleight." Credit: BH Tilt Publicity

‘Sleight’
Director:
J.D. Dillard
Stars: Jacob Latimore, Dule Hill
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

It sounds like one of those jokey this-meets-that pitches from “The Player.” “Sleight” is a magician movie about a drug dealer that turns into a grungy superhero origin story (for a superhero that doesn’t exist — yet). In other words, it’s “Now You See Me” meets “The Wire,” as well as “Unbreakable.” But though its maker, one J.D. Dillard, cut his teeth working for J.J. Abrams, there’s little about “Sleight” that feels crassly calculated. It’s too earnest, too scrappy — though sincerity has a nasty tendency to slip into the amateur.

So it goes with “Sleight,” which fumbles a promising concept in more ways than one. By night, Los Angeles orphan Bo (Jacob Latimore) is a good kid unhappily indebted to a neighborhood drug lord (“Psych”’s Dule Hill), peddling product to provide for his little sister. By day, he performs tricks for wowed strangers. His niftiest move includes levitating coins mid-air — a fantastical sight that seems like a mere special effect. But there’s a scientific (or movie-scientific) explanation for his powers: Embedded into his upper arm is a gnarly (and almost certainly infectious) super-magnet. Maybe this gizmo will be his ticket away from a dangerous life.

Bo seeks to better his life by doing something truly original. Same goes for the low-budget “Sleight.” If only it didn’t smash together spare parts so awkwardly, or didn’t manage to make those parts seem so generic. It’s at its best with magic. Bo has a terrific speech about the magician who inspired him to sacrifice a part of his life to do something unique, stand out of the crowd. Yes, there’s a similar anecdote in “The Prestige,” but it’s written with vividness and passion and delivered beautifully by Latimore.

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But usually it settles for lazy cliches. Its depiction of the drug trade is like a studio exec’s idea of true grit, with bland threats and a haphazardly edited scene where Bo is forced to chop off a poor guy’s hand that tries its best not to show the gore. A love interest (Seychelle Gabriel) is herself not very interesting, while Bo’s sister only exists so she can be cheaply put in harm’s way. Even when it openly steals from other films, it steals too big. Its rip-roaring climax even goes so far as to rip an iconic bit from “The Matrix,” plus a memorable kill from “X-Men: First Class.” Despite its honest vibes, it’s original and realistic and refreshing the way I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter is butter, and all the worse for trying to nick from the comic book genre, as though it needs any more entries anyway.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
 
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