Even though Brie Larson gets top billing, Sharlto Copley and Armie Hammer shine in this indie shoot-em-up.
After the death of his widowed mother, Bo (Jacob Latimore) does whatever he needs to in order to make ends meet for himself and his younger sister, Tina (Storm Reid). Bo was a brilliant high school student who was on the road to scholarship. He gave that up and, instead focused his attention on his passion for magic. In order to make money, he started selling drugs for Angelo (Dule Hill), a local gangster. While performing street magic, Bo meets a young girl named Holly (Seychelle Gabriel), a local college student. The two hit it off and Holly quickly becomes a part of Bo and Tina’s lives. Soon after they start dating, Bo discovers that Holly lives with an abusive mother and invites her to stay with he and his sister.
After they spend the night together, Bo reveals the secret to one of his illusions to Holly. Actually, it’s more that she discovers it. Bo has implanted an electromagnetic coil into his right arm. The device allows him to levitate objects, but it’s a home made implant that has become infected. Holly wonders why he would go to such lengths just for an illusion. Bo tells her the story of a man who had stabbed a hole in his hand just to perform a knife trick. The point of the story is that being able to do something that no one else can do is what makes a magician. The coil is Bo’s thing that no one else can do.
Bo’s life takes a turn for the worse when another drug dealer shows up and starts selling on Angelo’s turf. Angelo shows a side to himself that Bo had never seen. He calls Bo in to help with an armed raid on the rival dealer’s hideout in order to deliver a warning. When the dealer doesn’t abide the warning, Angelo kidnaps him and forces Bo to cut the man’s hand off. Realizing that he needs to get out of this life, Bo comes up with an ill advised plan. He cuts Angelo’s drugs with baking soda in order to double the amount. He plans to pay Angelo back and take the extra money for he and his sister. When Angelo finds out about this, he beats Bo and puts a gun to his head. He demands all the money from the diluted drugs, plus a $15,000 “ass-hole tax”, for a total of $45,000.
Even though he has no real hope of getting the money, Bo tries his best along with Holly’s help. He sells his drugs and hits the streets hard as a performer. At the eleventh hour, he even uses his skills as a magician to steal money from a client’s bar. Before he can get the money to Angelo, he’s kidnapped by the one handed dealer and his gang. They plan to kill him (or at least cut his hand off), but he uses his right arm to get free and run. With the money lost, he tries to hide from Angelo. He succeeds for one night, but Angelo kidnaps his sister from her school.
In order to get his sister back, Angelo goes to get advice from his high school science teacher on how to make the coil more powerful. They come up with a solution, but it could be dangerous to Bo. Bo shows up at Angelo’s house demanding to know where his sister is. Angelo and his thugs try to take Bo out, but are surprised and overwhelmed by Bo’s amplified power which gives him the ability to control objects. After stopping bullets in mid air, Bo starts to drill one slowly into Angelo’s head until he gives up his sister’s location. Bo leaves Angelo alive and gives him the $15,000 for his original product before taking his sister back.
The movie ends with Bo, Holly and Tina living in San Diego. Bo is still performing and Holly is still working her way through school. Bo is also working on something new with his electromagnetic abilities. We never see what it is, but Holly wakes up in the middle of the night to find the house’s electronics bugging out. She looks in on Bo to see a room glowing with energy.
What did I think?
I love the idea of this movie. Coming in to it, I thought it was going to be kind of like Taken meets Now You See Me. However, it turned out to be a much more intimate movie than either one of those. Even so, the idea of a kid who basically had the smarts to turn himself into a low budget super-hero was interesting. Instead of actually developing a “power”, Bo had developed something that he could use as a visual effect. Only when pressed does he use it as something more grandiose. The problem is that it seems like he barely uses that power, or his magic at all. It’s unfortunate because the magic is the thing that makes his character stand out. Without that, this movie is just a run of the mill story about a kid with good intentions getting in to deep and trying to find a way out.
As far as the more standard elements of the movie go, it stands that if you’re going to have a routine plot you need the performances to stand out. Dule Hill’s performance as Angelo did just that. Angelo skated the line between being charismatic and cartoon-ish and landed on the right side of things. Even though he’s doing it while being “evil” he provides some of the best lines and comedy of the entire movie. I should also mention that, while not selling the magic really well, Jacob Latimore does do a very good job at selling Bo’s internal turmoil and his feeling of agitation at his whole circumstance.
Even though I was disappointed by how little they focused on the magic and Bo’s abilities, I did appreciate that they did at least allow him to explain why he would go so far as to disfigure his body to perform magic. There just could’ve been more of that. Like, if magic was such a big deal to him why doesn’t he seem to have a goal beyond street performing? Why don’t we ever get to see him fully perform more than one trick? It would’ve just been nice to see more of that. And, of course, there was that last scene that made me almost roll my eyes back into my skull. After an entire movie of skimping on the magic, I was hoping against hope that they would show something big on screen. Instead, they fell back on the trope of only letting us see a characters reaction to the fantastic.
I feel like that moment really summed up the movie going experience for me. It’s not that it makes the movie bad. There are actually a lot of elements of the movie that are well done. Even though I can appreciate how it’s constructed as a movie, it just doesn’t do enough to really be satisfying for me as a viewer.
- Dule Hill creates a charismatic villain
- Despite the execution, the concept is interesting
- Movie chooses to focus on the familiar "good kid gets in too deep" story instead of the more interesting story about his abilities
- The entire story tries to feel intimate and quiet, but it comes off as being somewhat muted