Review: Stylish ‘Kicks’ boots chance to make statement

Sneakers are crucial to survival in Justin Tipping’s stylish but empty debut feature

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

The symbolic status of footwear is the jumping off point for “Kicks,” writer-director Justin Tipping’s too-stylish-by-half debut feature.

The story follows Brandon (Jahking Guillory), a Bay Area 15-year-old who aspires to lace up a fresh pair of Air Jordans on his feet. To Brandon, a pair of black and red Jordan 1s will silence the bullies who routinely make fun of him for his beater sneakers.

When he finally does score a pair of the coveted shoes, his problems only increase when neighborhood gangsta Flaco (Kofi Siriboe) decides to help himself to the sneaks. When Brandon retaliates, it perpetuates a cycle of violence with no end in sight.

Tipping throws all sorts of tricks at the screen, most of which don’t work. He uses a floating, disconnected voiceover that doesn’t fit the story, employs a metaphorical spaceman whose purpose is more poetic than practical and keeps cutting to title cards featuring quotes from rappers that do little else other than exhibit his taste in hip-hop. Tipping is overly eager to show off, but it comes across as overcompensation for a thin script.

He also seems averse to making a statement. One day while on the bus, Brandon looks over and sees another passenger wearing the exact shoes he covets, which is seemingly a comment on the lack of individuality of sneaker culture. But it’s never touched on again.

Ironically, when forced to wear his mom’s slip-on sandals, Brandon expresses more style and swagger than the mass-marketed Js could ever offer. But Tipping isn’t interested in exploring that thread either. Rather than question the culture, he’s one more voice pumping up the same old stereotypes.

agraham@detroitnews.com

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Twitter: @grahamorama

‘Kicks’

GRADE: C-

Rated R for violence, drug/alcohol use and language throughout, and sexual content involving teens

Running time: 84 minutes