For the Bronx graffiti artists of Gimme the Loot, Adam Leon's sweet, vibrant debut feature, "Bombing the Apple" is the holy grail of tagging achievements.
"The Apple" in question is the protuberance that emerges from behind the center-right wall in Shea Stadium — they refuse to acknowledge the corporate name Citi Field — every time a New York Mets player hits a home run.
The thought of seeing their supersized insignia rising to the sky, taunting their Queens rivals, is a delicious fantasy to consider; they're like thieves idly plotting to knock over Fort Knox. They would be legends and presumably silence the disrespect they absorb seemingly everywhere they go.
Gimme the Loot follows Malcolm (Ty Hickson) and Sofia (Tashiana Washington), two teenagers, as they attempt to make this impossible feat a reality. But Leon has little interest in staging a no-budget Ocean's Eleven; the film is about roadblocks and detours, harebrained schemes on top of other harebrained schemes, most of which lead them further away from the ultimate prize than they were when they started.
And that's the pleasure of it: The goal of "Bombing the Apple" makes the 81-minute run time pass lickety-split, but it's all a smokescreen for a warm and wonderfully discursive slice-of-life story, with an emphasis on language and local color and a great feel for the longings of working-class adolescents.
Malcolm and Sofia spend their afternoons tagging lampposts and rooftops, pulling off petty capers and alternating between affectionate banter and trash talk, exhibiting a romantic chemistry that's obvious to everyone but them.
As the Roadside King Crew, a group of younger taggers from Queens, encroaches on their territory, defacing their defacements, the partners vow to seek the ultimate revenge at Shea Stadium. Malcolm claims to have an inside connection who wants $500 to slip them into the stadium after hours, but they don't have that kind of paper — and spend a long day trying to get it.
Sofia has $80 coming from some deadbeat on a "custom job," and Malcolm has been known to sell a little weed here and there, but they're both tilting at windmills. For his part, Malcolm hijacks a few bags to sell to a stoner (Zoe Lescaze) from an upscale neighborhood, but gets so caught up in flirting with her that he nearly forgets why he's there in the first place.
Sofia isn't as easily distracted, but her combative nature, likely essential for operating in a boy's world, makes her a target for leering kids and small-time crooks.
To say that Gimme the Loot goes nowhere fast isn't an insult, but an apt description of how agreeably Leon and his cast spin their wheels. It's fitting that the film won the Grand Jury Prize at South by Southwest, in Richard Linklater's Austin, because its strongest passages have the hangout quality of Linklater's Slacker, surveying the neighborhood and encountering some eccentric souls along the way.
At the same time, Malcolm and Sofia's romantic uncertainty recalls the lovely 2002 indie Raising Victor Vargas, only with the Bronx subbing in for the Lower East Side. They're confused about their feelings for each other, and too inexperienced to figure out how to express them the right way.
Leon isn't a flashy director, but he has an excellent sense of proportion. Gimme the Loot unfolds in a series of loose, funny, naturalistic scenes, but they never trail off into improvisational vapors.
Malcolm and Sofia have to get that money, after all, and that need enforces the discipline necessary to keep the film from dithering too much. In Leon's generous view, they may fail consistently, but at least they're failing together — and sharing a camaraderie that's its own kind of triumph. (Recommended)