Here's a gorgeous and audacious slice of East Bay life that's dreamily attentive to Northern California sun and concrete, to the shambled beauty of a street couch under a BART station, to the slow thump of cruising stoned with hip hop bumping, to the way suburb-city edges into city-city and the only way for a broke-ass Richmond kid to envision getting out is in idle fantasy, maybe just floating away, somehow, like a balloon you let go of.
In Justin Tipping's tragicomic humanist sneaker-war lulu Kicks, it's a space suit that represents escape, with the movie's metabolism often sapping to coma levels as life shudders to a halt and an astronaut hovers into frame. For scrappy, scrawny high-schooler Brandon (Jahking Guillory), the NASA-uncanny suggests some complex brew of safety, anonymity and freedom. He tells us twice, in voice-over, that even in his dreams he's being chased, and the opening scenes -- a bracing tour of Richmond backstreets with bullies in pursuit -- back him up. In the heavy-breathing thick of it, though, he'll have his reveries, envisioning slo-mo spacewalks above the alleys and playgrounds. Then he gets stomped.
Tipping, who co-wrote with Joshua Beirne-Golden, works in three modes: sweet coming-of age naturalism; portentous, lyrically expressive zone outs; and low-budget foot-chase action. A slip of story connects all this, the kind of simple quest narrative that worked for Bicycle Thieves and Pee-wee's Big Adventure: Those red-and-black original-vintage Jordans that Brandon is convinced will change his life? They get yoinked, and he's got to get them back. But Tipping never quite weaves all this together into a coherent whole, and Kicks alternates too often between inspired, not-bad and somewhat trying.