There is something crushingly genuine about Gimme the Loot. In part, it's the playful simplicity of the plot: Two Bronx teens try to rise to graffiti infamy by tagging a giant plastic apple that pops from the stands every time the Mets hit a home run, a feat that graffiti artists have attempted and failed to achieve for 20 years. But it's also the feel of the film, the grime and grit of a New York summer, the noise and heat, and the unmistakable ache of being a teenager yearning for recognition and sex, yet in the most innocent way possible.
Instead of emphasizing the bleakness of growing up in a poor neighborhood, writer-director Adam Leon sets out to infuse some of the lighthearted mischief of Superbad and Dazed and Confused into a film about inner-city teens. That said, Leon doesn't gloss over the realities of growing up in one of New York's toughest boroughs. Best friends Sofia (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson) are robbed by rival artists, chased by angry drug dealers and viciously cussed out as they try to scrape together enough cash to pay off a Shea Stadium security guard to let them sneak in and "bomb the apple." But Leon achieves levity by allowing room for natural moments of humor. After bad luck strikes, Sofia and Malcolm buoy one another with sibling-style jabs, making light of their doomed quest for fast cash in the ghetto. It's the kind of humor that tumbles out naturally between friends in the midst of hardship—organic, awkward and sincere.
Leon injects euphoria with music, too. Though the titular Notorious B.I.G. song seems to guide Sofia and Malcolm's pubescent attempts at swagger, the soundtrack leans more toward classic soul and R&B than early hip-hop. Warm, super-fat grooves and old-school harmonies swell in and out of the New York soundscape, often rising up into more dramatic scenes to break the tension. They're the kind of songs that bring sense to a senseless moment, coloring the mood with tenderness as well as gravitas.
Although driven by revenge, there's a purity to the pair's mission. Every illegal or unethical act seems vindicated, even exhilarating, as we come to understand why bombing the apple matters. It's the victory they can't taste anywhere else in their lives. And the fact that they're seeking it together.
Critic's Grade: A-
SEE IT: Gimme the Loot opens Friday at Living Room Theaters.