For all its guerrilla graffiti backdrop, Adam Leon’s Gimme the Loot is really a classic Nothing Was Ever The Same After That Summer story. His characters face tests on the limits of their goodness and their inabilities to demarcate the borders of friendship and love. After two sweltering summer days during the lives of a couple of Bronx teenagers, their lives will be changed, only not for the reasons they imagine.
Sofia (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson) are graffiti artists, always scanning thee streets for the next perfect site to bomb. Like any graffiti kids, they want maximum visibility for maximum recognition. The problem is, every time they hit a wall, a rival outfit calling themselves the Woodside King Crew paints over it. An amped-up Malcolm and a slow-burning Sofia come up with a plan: they’ll bomb the giant red apple that rises like a ponderous and unfunny joke in the outfield at Citi Field (née Shea Stadium) on those rare occasions when the Mets hit a home run. When the apple rises, they imagine, their artwork will be shown on national television and so gain them instant and far-reaching fame.
Their plan for how to do this is as well thought through as could be expected from a couple of frustrated teens. Malcolm knows a security guard out at the park who says he’ll let them in… for $500. Given that the film opens on Malcolm and Sofia stealing spray paint cans from a hardware store, this isn’t the kind of loot they’re likely to have on them. So they split up to make the money, Sofia by selling some of those cans they lifted and Malcolm by talking a fellow runner for a local drug dealer out of his stash so that he can pocket the money.
The blowback is swift and fast. Sofia gets robbed of her cash and Malcolm goes on the run from the dealer. For all their loud talk, these aren’t career criminals. Hopping through the subway turnstile is about their level of lawlessness. They’re just kids trying to make it in a landscape of cracked sidewalks, bulletproof-glass bodegas, absent parents, and few opportunities. Why are they so obsessed with bombing the big apple? They want to be noticed, to be seen as rising above it all.
Leon aims throughout for a bright but gritty feel. The easy humor, obscure R&B-flavored soundtrack, and sun-dappled colors are like a slightly warped old vinyl LP playing on a long and lazy loop. Sofia and Malcolm are on summer vacation, after all. So even though Malcolm is taking a risk by making a delivery with purloined merchandise, he still doesn’t pass up the chance to make out with rich white college girl Ginnie (Zoe Lescaze) in her small, swank Village apartment. And while Sofia is redlining on adrenaline and fury, she attracts interest from another graffiti artist who likes her style. Both Malcolm and Sofia pointedly ignore the low romantic vibe that flickers between them in each of their bickering scenes.
But the world is still the world. So Malcolm, light in his sneakers and grinning sun-like with newfound love, is reminded harshly of his station. A return visit to Ginnie’s leaves him feeling shut down like some servant by her and her cosseted friends. In a scene close to the end of the film, Sofia and Malcolm confront Ginnie on the rooftop of her building. It’s a wordless moment, but redolent. After a film that hops and skips across Manhattan with ease, the reality of money and class comes slamming home. As the teens stare at each other across a great distance, it’s clear none has the ability to cross it, no matter how magical the summer or grand the outlaw adventure might be.