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'Gimme the Loot' movie review: Urban comedy packed with energy, heart and laughs

Gimme the Loot

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“Let’s just keep our eyes on the prize,” Malcolm (Ty Hickson) tells Sofia (Tashiana Washington) in Gimme the Loot, opening April 12 in Atlanta. In this case, the “prize” is access to the Big Apple sign at Citi Field, which rises up whenever the hometown New York Mets crack a home run. The teenage duo is set on “bombing” the sign – street lingo for adorning it with their graffiti – and becoming legends in the process.

Sofia (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson) in GIMME THE LOOT
Seven for Ten, LLC, an IFC Films release.

The problem? They need 5-hundy to bribe a stadium worker to let them in. And, as Sofia gently puts it, “Where the f--- we supposed to get $500?”

During the course of Gimme the Loot’s 80 minutes, Malcolm and Sofia attempt to bribe, wheedle and cajole this money out of friends and family. When that doesn’t work, they’re not afraid to resort to the occasional lying, cheating and stealing in the name of realizing their ambitions.

Their efforts take them on a variety of amusing misadventures. Malcolm and Sofia, street-smart as they think they are, frequently find themselves in over their heads. In writer/director Adam Leon’s sharp comedy, mixing it up with drug dealers, ex-cons and rival gangs isn’t a recipe for life endangerment — just getting your bike stolen, losing your sneakers and suffering other such humiliations.

Gimme the Loot, shot on a shoestring budget, pulses with the energy of a walk down New York City’s busy streets. Lawson’s quick-witted script, delivered with veteran poise and panache by first-time actors Hickson and Washington, sets a lively pace. Take this humorous exchange between the two:

Sofia: “Listen, so this is what we gonna do. Don’t your brother train some boxer that work at Shea Stadium?”

Malcolm: “You mean Citi Field, where the Mets play at?”

Sofia: “Citi Field? I’m not calling it after some stupid bank. It’s called Shea Stadium, and do you know the brother or not?”

Lawson’s film isn’t all laughs and light fun, though. Start with the characters’ coarse language, which counters the film’s sweetness and leads Sofia to bluntly inform Malcolm, “You’re f---ing disgusting. You don’t say that s--- to a lady.”

Elsewhere, a romantic subplot involving Malcolm and rich white girl Ginnie (Zoe Lescaze) serves as a harsh reminder of class disparity. And the film’s quiet moments, artfully orchestrated by Lawson, speak volumes about pursuing a dream, to quote Morgan Freeman in Million Dollar Baby, that nobody sees but you.

Keep an eye on Hickson and Washington, a talented duo with chemistry to spare. Hickson’s Malcolm is full of bravado, talking a mile a minute and posturing about some guy he’s going to whack or some gal he’s going to bed. This sort of machismo has the potential to grow grating, but Gimme the Loot has the perfect ace up its sleeve: a strong female counterpart in Sofia.

She’s a force to be reckoned with, and Washington plays her as a live wire who doesn’t take a lick of guff from the guys. But for all their swagger, there’s more to Malcolm and Sofia than their rough exteriors, and the gifted Hickson and Washington prove expert at revealing their characters’ softer sides.

Leon, whose film won the Best Narrative Feature at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival, has a sharp eye for the small details essential to building uniqueness and authenticity. An array of memorable supporting players fill Gimme the Loot’s frames, including the scene-stealing Champion (Meeko) as Malcolm and Sofia’s occasional partner in crime.

A vivid soundtrack of old-school soul, R&B and the occasional hip-hop cut perfectly complements the action. And cinematographer Jonathan Miller, unfazed by the film’s low budget, captures New York City’s many moods in smartly composed shots.

Tired of the disappointing action movies and comedies Hollywood has been serving up this spring? Take solace: Gimme the Loot runs circles around most of these plodding big-budget flicks. A low-budget indie that bristles with energy and heart? You can gimme some of that.

Grade: B+

"Gimme the Loot" opens in Atlanta on April 12 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

Follow me at http://twitter.com/ATLFilmExaminer.

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