4 (out of five stars)Director: Adam LeonCast: Tashiana Washington, Ty Hickson, Meeko, Zoe Lescaze, Sam Soghor, Adam MetzgerRated: NRRunning time:1 hour, 21 minutes
‘Gimme the Loot,” Adam Leon’s loose and rambunctious debut feature, tells the tale of two young artists scrambling to kick-start an ambitious project. Or, if you prefer, it follows a pair of vandals through a day of improvised criminality. Really, though, it’s both: a celebration of outlaw creativity and entrepreneurial gumption.
Malcolm (Ty Hickson) and Sofia (Tashiana Washington) are Bronx graffiti writers who conceive an ambitious plan to tag the big plastic apple that popped up in Shea Stadium every time the Mets hit a home run. (The movie takes place in the summer before Shea was replaced by Citi Field). The pair need $500 to finance this venture, and in the course of a long, hot day they zigzag across New York, trying to raise the money by stealing, selling weed and other devious, dubious means.
The movie’s title evokes the menace and swagger of Notorious B.I.G., but its spirit is closer to the bouncy mischief of earlier, 1980s hip-hop. Though Malcolm and Sofia — especially Sofia — like to talk tough and strike thuggish poses, there is something sweet about their eagerness to prove themselves. “Bombing” the Shea apple, they believe, will make them legends in the graffiti world and beyond, and Leon both respects their dream and views it as a romantic, almost childlike fantasy.
He also has an acute eye and ear for the sights and sounds of the real New York. An encounter between Malcolm and a (relatively) rich Manhattan girl (Zoe Lescaze) — a client of the pot merchants whose product Malcolm is peddling — is a sly and eloquent mini-film about sex, race and class in the city. And “Gimme the Loot” has a lot to say about the contradictions of a place that is defined by both abundant opportunity and ferocious inequality.
But the film makes its points in a lighthearted, street-smart vernacular, treating its protagonists not as embodiments of a social condition but rather as self-aware individuals who are, like teenagers everywhere, both smart and dumb. Their friendship — which is based above all on shared artistic ambitions — is a perfect comic pairing. Sofia is intense and unsmiling, while Malcolm is a charming, goofy chatterbox, and they make a vivid impression, even without spray paint.