The tagline on the poster for Justin Tipping’s debut feature, “Kicks,” is “They aren’t just shoes.” No, the shoes in question stand for something – they stand for pride and they stand for being a man and they stand for power and they stand for one’s position in society and any number of other things.
These sneakers, a pair of Air Jordans, are purchased in a questionable sale out of a truck by Brandon (Jahking Guillory) and almost immediately stolen by Flaco (Kofi Siriboe). As they are his only pair of shoes–and more than just shoes–Brandon sets out on a quest to retrieve them with the help of his two friends, Albert (Christopher Jordan Wallace) and Rico (Christopher Meyer). To say that along the way Brandon and his friends get into some trouble would be to greatly undersell the issues that they face.
The simplest explanation of the film is this – “Kicks” is a coming of age story about a boy in the East Bay; one punctuated by hip-hop music, gunshots, and an astronaut. Yup, an astronaut.
Brandon, as his opening voiceover explains, is a small kid who dreams of having a spaceship so that he could be somewhere that he couldn’t get made fun of or beaten up. So, throughout the movie, Brandon sees an astronaut in a spacesuit. The astronaut doesn’t say anything, but rather lightly guides Brandon on his way.
“Kicks” never quite sells this whole astronaut thing. Rather than feeling like a germane part of Brandon’s identity, it gives the sense of being a way to get viewers talking about the movie, of having those who watch the movie ascribe a layer to it that isn’t really there but rather is imagined simply due to the presence of the astronaut. The astronaut is a question students are handed after seeing the movie in class (if it wasn’t an R-rated film): What does the astronaut stand for? After all, Brandon never says he wants to be an astronaut or dreams of astronauts or anything of that ilk – he wants a spaceship so he can be where it’s quiet, that’s it. The astronaut isn’t a part of his description.
The unfortunate thing is that “Kicks” doesn’t need the astronaut, it is a strong enough film with a strong enough story and enjoyable performances without this sort of groping for additional relevance. While the experiences Brandon goes through are quite specific to a life that many of us will never know, Guillory, Tipping, and everyone else have made the characters accessible and their plight clear – everyone watching will understand the importance of Brandon’s shoes and why his friends, even if they disagree about going to get them, accompany him. Even Flaco’s motivations are laid clear.
We may not agree with anyone or they way they pursue their goals, but we certainly understand where they are coming from. Consequently, watching Brandon grow up immensely over the course of this journey is powerful.
With a runtime of just under 90 minutes, “Kicks” doesn’t overstay its welcome either. It introduces its characters, sets a series of events into motion, and quickly closes when those events are brought to a finish. Except, maybe not. The world will continue for Brandon and his friends and there are some implications about what might happen next, about where these people might go from here.
I have found myself wondering just what is next for everyone involved since the credits rolled. The characters have stuck with me and that alone is enough to make the movie worth recommending.
photo credit: Focus World