'Gimme the Loot': Graffiti romance-comedy drips with energy
By James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
Taking place on one of those hot city days that makes you feel like all your dreams and heat exhaustion are both somehow nearer than they've ever been before, New York is a spray-colored playground for Malcolm (Ty Hickson) and Sofia (Tashiana Washington) in "Gimme the Loot." They have a plan to tag one of New York's most identifiable -- and least corporate-changed -- landmarks as the kind of masterstroke that'll jump them from petty squabbles with lesser crews and elevate them into the pantheon, literally written for all to see. Their plan is impractical; the challenges, not insignificant. Really, though, what Adam Leon's screenplay and direction both make clear is that, mostly, Malcolm and Sofia really like hanging out with each other.
Like the spray paint the lead characters boost in the film's first reel, "Gimme the Loot" sprays and spits with contents under pressure leaping out to bright, bold results. Malcolm and Sofia have an inside relationship with a guy who knows a guy who can get them access to their target for $500. Of course, Malcolm and Sofia do not have $5, much less $500. And so, through humid streets in diverse boroughs, Malcolm and Sofia get more and more embroiled in their effort to kick-start their plan.
It takes a lot to make us like vandals, but Leon does that here: Tagging is just something Sofia and Malcolm share as an interest and feel passionately about, and their alliance makes it them against the world. This isn't a gritty exposé like "Kids," or a highbrow examination of graffiti, public space and the urban environment. It's mostly the equivalent of a long and lazy and slightly stoned summertime tall tale made and meant to be shared on a stoop. Malcolm makes a weed delivery to privileged Ginnie (Zoe Lescaze), who has a warm flirty smile and, later, the cold capacity for calculation. Sofia endures various indignities from rival graffiti crews and tries to make some money as well.
Sofia, as played by Washington, is a slightly set-back watcher and waiter who can explode into action when it's suggested she can't represent her and Malcolm's grandiose ambitions. Malcolm, as played by Hickson, is an easy-to-like screw-up with charm and an easy, relaxed capacity for making the bad worse. The whole affair has the close, charmed feel of eavesdropping, or the bounce and back-and-forth of real conversation, with a few on-foot chase sequences or woefully clumsy tries at lock picking.
In a different age, Jimmy Breslin's great portrait of the high jinks and homicides of New York's gangsters was published and filmed as "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight." Breslin wouldn't have thought much of Sofia and Malcolm as lawbreakers, but their camaraderie and moxie -- and how they're kind of the gang who can't spray straight -- would mark them as his kind of characters.
The movie doesn't take place in a too-easy world, either. There's no phony-easy multiculturalism here. Sophia gets called "bitch" a lot or spits it back herself, and the bright, shining "The More You Know" star never flashes overhead to guide us to anything like a moral. Leon's direction and script and closeness with his actors give us a movie that's fairly closely observed, taking place in the busy sunbaked streets even as Malcolm and Sofia are looking to the stars, trying to literally make a mark on the Big Apple that probably won't happen. A strong debut for Leon given real energy by Washington and Hickson's performances, "Gimme the Loot" isn't the kind of film where a lot happens, but that's it's small-scale magic: You still wind up caring about the characters nothing much is happening to.
James Rocchi has written reviews and articles for print and online publications, including Total Film Magazine, the Toronto Star, IndieWire's The Playlist, Mother Jones, AMCtv.com and Cinematical.com. He's covered film festivals including Sundance, Cannes, the Toronto International Film Festival, SXSW and Fantastic Fest. He's been an on-air reviewer for CBS-5 San Francisco and a reviewer and commentator for CNN, G4, TechTV and more. He lives in Los Angeles, which is both exactly and not at all like the movies suggest it is.