The “Jumpman” might not mean much to you if you aren’t a fan of Michael Jordan. The greatest to ever do it on a basketball court, G.O.A.T. for short. He played for the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, picking up six NBA championship rings, and has a phone book-like list of other sporting achievements, including two olympic gold medals. But perhaps his most iconic sporting moment came when he laced up in the early eighties in a pair of Nike basketball shoes; created especially for him, branded with his surname in a red and black colourway: The Air Jordan 1. They heralded in the era of the sneakerhead, which still continues to this day, spanning generations young and old.
So, we meet Jordan-obsessed teen, Brandon (Jahking Guillory) and his knockabout buddies, Albert (Christopher Jordan Wallace), and Rico (Christopher Meyer), kicking it in the East Bay, Richmond, California. A city of crime, blunts and guns. While no angels, the boy’s stay on the right side of the tracks; shooting hoops, talking trash, and chasing girls. Unlike his strapping friends, laced in Air Jordan “6’s” and “3’s”, the diminutive Brandon is left out in the cold; his sneakers are tatty and brand-less. He’s a social zero, bullied and shy. In this part of the world, “Fresh feet equals respect, man”.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, the sneaker Gods smile down on Brandon one day after school. A ghetto sports shoe salesman, working out of an old mini-van, happens to be slinging a pair of Air Jordan 1’s in red and black: Mike’s Chicago Bulls colours. Brandon has no choice. He cops them, spending all of his hard earned dollars. His world changes; respect, confidence and girls, all come his way. The power of the Jordan brand. All is good in The Bay… until, local wild boy, Flaco (Kofi Siriboe) jacks Brandon’s sweet kicks in a brutal gun-toting robbery captured on social media for added humiliation.
The stage is set, Brandon must reclaim his straight fire Jordans and more importantly his self-respect. So, begins a hood odyssey, taking Brandon and his reluctantly enlisted boys to deepest and darkest Oakland, California. A sprawling urban hell-hole, full of trap or die denizens. None more so than Brandon’s uncle Marlon (Mahershala Ali), who offers little in the way of help, and sombrely tells his young nephew “You got a problem, you handle that shit yourself”.
Luckily for Brandon, uncle Marlon’s gun cabinet is an unmade bed. The young teen is now strapped and on a mission to the wrong side of the tracks. A haze of smoked out youth culture: house parties, sexual awakenings and parking lot burnouts, all washes dreamily across the screen. Until, the final third. Brandon faces off with Flaco in a tense game of cat and mouse. Yet the climax feels a bit toothless compared to the bleak reality of real-life gang culture and gun crime embedded deep within The Golden State. Nobody just walks away: a little worse for wear.
Ultimately, it’s a cinderella story that left me cold. Brandon’s croaky narration was more annoying than profound. And that’s emblematic of the film’s major shortcoming; it yearns to be an earnest coming-of-age tale, but it often slides into pretentious territory; favouring washed-out and slow-motion character vignettes. A little unfair, maybe. But the case can still be made the directer and co-writer, Justin Tipping over-reached in the arty-farty department. Oddly shoehorned in floating astronauts, erratic hood-anthem needle drops, and Malick-esque cinematography. I guess it all really depends on how you feel about modern “Sundance Festival” filmmaking…
For all it’s hood bravado, Kicks never soars like Mike rocking his iconic basketball shoes. No, it feels like another pair of must-have sneakers from the early eighties. British Knights, all style, but lacking real soul.
Kicks will be available on digital download from 22nd May 2017 here.