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‘Sleight’ review: Coming-of-age tale with supernatural twist

Jacob Latimore as street magician Bo in

Jacob Latimore as street magician Bo in "Sleight." Photo Credit: Sundance Film Festival

PLOT A magician involved in illegal doings uses his powers to save himself and his sister.

CAST Jacob Latimore, Dulé Hill, Storm Reid, Seychelle Gabriel

RATED R (language throughout, drug content, some violence)

LENGTH 1:30

BOTTOM LINE The filmmakers pull off the neat trick of balancing a human drama with a superhero plot.

By day, Bo (Jacob Latimore) is a street magician, wowing passers-by with truly impressive sleight of hand for tips. By night, he slings party drugs in the clubs and on the streets of Los Angeles. But all the time, he’s the protective guardian of his sister, Tina (Storm Reid), just two orphaned siblings against the world. In “Sleight,” co-writer-director J.D. Dillard and co-writer-producer Alex Theurer have created an unlikely superhero origin story, executed with the style, themes and budget of independent cinema.

Magic is his passion, a calling so strong that he has subjected himself to physical extremes. But selling drugs pays the bills for Bo and Tina, a side hustle that has sucked him in deep. His boss, Angelo (Dulé Hill), has started to rely on him in ways that test Bo’s morality and identity, and going against the boss is far more dangerous than even Bo wagers.

The magic is the setting and the soul of “Sleight,” while the drugs offer stakes and danger to the story. At times, the drug subplot can feel a bit overwrought and inauthentic; as committed as Hill is, it’s hard to buy him as the ruthless and coldblooded Angelo, and the budget limitations are a bit clearer during those scenes.

The high stakes of Bo’s entanglement with Angelo force him out of his comfort zone, and he relies on his skill with magic to slide out of some sticky situations. However, it becomes far more than just an optical illusion, and as Bo pushes himself to the limit, he makes a breakthrough from the kind of sleight of hand magic to what seems to almost be real magic.

In their feature film debut, Dillard and Theurer have efficiently used their resources to demonstrate a deft control of character and tone that leaves you wanting more from Bo’s story, and curious about what the filmmakers could do with a bigger project. “Sleight” fuses a superhero story with a tough coming-of-age tale, and it enlivens and elevates both genres into something new and different, while heralding the arrival of Latimore as a star.

More magical movies

Do you believe in magic? You might after seeing the new movie “Sleight” or one of these four other films featuring illusionists.

THE ILLUSIONIST (2006) — Edward Norton played the title role of a magician in 19th century Vienna who will do everything in his power to prevent the woman he loves (Jessica Biel) from marrying an evil crown prince (Rufus Sewell).

THE PRESTIGE (2006) — Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale worked their magic as former friends and professional rivals who are out to one-up the other to perform the ultimate illusion.

THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD (2008) — John Malkovich had plenty of tricks up his sleeve as an egocentric, down-on-his luck illusionist who makes life miserable for his new road manager named Troy Gable (Colin Hanks). Hanks’ real-life dad, Tom Hanks, also pops up as Gable’s father.

NOW YOU SEE ME (2013) — Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco and Isla Fisher starred as a team of illusionists who pull off a bank heist and soon have the FBI and Interpol on their trail. The surprise box-office hit conjured up a 2016 sequel.

— DANIEL BUBBEO

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