The title Gimme the Loot might set up a few expectations. Is it going to be a hard-edged, hard-drugs inner-city drama, a la Boyz n the Hood? Or a broad comedy such as Friday, with running jokes about welfare and weed and the petty thefts necessary to live a certain slacker lifestyle?
Writer-director Adam Leon’s debut is neither, making Gimme the Loot about as unfortunate and misleading a name as the sitcom Cougar Town. There are elements of your preconceptions here, including robberies, marijuana, and language that would make David Mamet blush. But the film is primarily about friendship, as well as the energy and tenacity of youth.
Don’t roll your eyes—its veiled optimism is actually sweet. The movie starts with teenagers and BFFs Sofia (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson) stealing cans of paint from a Bronx store and leaving their mark on a concrete wall. Later they return to find that someone graffitied over their graffiti. Pissed, the pair decide that it’s time to pull the ultimate and seemingly impossible stunt: “bombing” the apple that pops up at Shea Stadium—excuse me, Citi Field, which Sofia refuses to say—when a homer is hit. A friend of Malcolm’s says he can get them access. For the low, low price of $500.
Obviously, the kids don’t have that kind of money, but they spend the next two summer days running around their neighborhood in an attempt to get it. Their methods aren’t always legal. When Sofia’s bike is stolen, she chases down one of the perpetrators and takes his cellphone to sell. Malcolm tricks someone into letting him make one of the guy’s drug runs, which leads to Malcolm getting to know the pretty and apparently well-off Ginnie (Zoe Lescaze). He hangs out at her apartment for a while, and they talk and flirt and eventually kiss. It’s cute how giddy he is—but he still plans to rob her.
The humor in Gimme the Loot is low-key. When Sofia calls Malcolm to meet her, he asks if she’s going to sell their paint cans. “No, we’re gonna talk about our feelings,” she responds without a beat. The script is heavy on dialogue, but the relatively inexperienced leads turn it into an easy back-and-forth typical of close friends. While Hickson’s Malcolm can be charming, it’s Washington that commands your attention, with her Sofia consistently tough and tomboyish enough to hang and curse with the guys. Neither let setbacks stop them, not even while they’re constantly running around in the humid Bronx heat.
Another surprise is the soundtrack, filled with old-school, soulful, and irresistibly joyful spirituals and, in one scene, funky disco. It suggests that Sofia and Malcolm are ultimately good kids, just doing what kids their age do, without malicious intent. They have a sincere, charmingly awkward conversation near the film’s end regarding their friendship and whether Malcolm thinks Sofia is attractive. Then he realizes that he forgot his mom’s birthday and runs to get her some flowers. He steals them, of course. But when Malcolm arranges them in a vase for his mother to find, it sums up the film: These teens may not always do the right thing, but their hearts are gold.