This review was originally published on News Cult in April 2017.

Starring: Jacob Latimore, Seychelle Gabriel, Storm Reid, Sasheer Zamata, Dulé Hill

Director: J.D. Dillard

Running Time: 89 Minutes

Rating: R for the Bloody Realities of Drug Dealing

Release Date: April 28, 2017

A young man hustles his way around Los Angeles street corners using his prowess in simple, but stunningly original magic tricks. Cards hover in the air and transport through glass windows. These are not the nonsensical shenanigans of Now You See Me. They are more akin to the weirdly practical effects of The Prestige that require a magical degree of dedication. An early peek at a metal disk implanted on the magician’s arm provides a hint of what is going on. Is he the result of secret government experimentation? Has he procured some rogue alien technology? Is this a stealth X-Men movie?

Sleight does not show his full hand right away, mainly because it is so crowded by the genre mish-mash. The light sci-fi added to the action illusions is already enough of a hybrid, but this is also a pretty full-blown coming-of-age romance and an even fuller-blown inner-city crime drama.  Bo (Jacob Latimore), the magician, is looking after his little sister Tina (Storm Reid) in the wake of their mother’s death. He is trying to move them on to a better life, and trying to help his girlfriend Holly (Seychelle Gabriel) out of an abusive parental relationship. Since magic only brings in relatively chump change, he is deep in some heavy drug dealing. He is fine with the hustle, but the dirty work makes him (literally) sick.

The satisfying unpredictability extends to the performances. It is always a joy to witness the sort of naturalistic interplay that Latimore and Gabriel display in their budding romance. This is the sort of tone that appears easy, but its rarity proves otherwise. There are also a couple of comedic actors playing rousingly against type. SNL’s Sasheer Zamata is nearly unrecognizable as a trusty neighbor, and veteran supporting player Brandon Johnson (Rick and Morty, NTSF:SD:SUV::) revels as the muscle in a criminal enterprise. But most stunning of all is Dulé Hill as one of L.A.’s top drug barons. The crowd at the screening I went to was rightly impressed but also eager to see him return to the friendlier TV roles (The West Wing, Psych) that made him famous.

Sleight slips up a bit in its last act by falling into the trap of cliché conflicts. Bo lets Tina go off on our own at a point when he knows their lives are the most in danger they have ever been. For a film that has been so sure-footed up to this point, such a lapse in judgment is frankly mindboggling. Furthermore, the genre mix is not handled perfectly, with certain story threads dropped for large chunks of the running time. (It is a good thing the image of the arm implant is so striking, because otherwise you are liable to forget about it entirely.) The ambition on display here makes a mere hour and a half a little unwieldy. But while Sleight wobbles a bit, it ultimately sticks the landing with a thrilling, uncompromising ending. The story mechanics are rusty, but the tricks are unprecedented.

Sleight is Recommended If You Like: Chronicle, The Prestige, Attack the Block

Grade: 3 out of 5 Electromagnets