In Adam Leon's "Gimme the Loot," a loose, beguiling bit of larceny, a pair of teenage graffiti artistes from the Bronx — Malcolm, played by Ty Hickson, and Sofia, played by Tashiana Washington — spend an eventful summer weekend in side-winding pursuit of their dream.
The dream? To "bomb" the New York Mets home run apple in the stadium formerly known as Shea. This is the holy grail for taggers, the most elusive of iconic targets. The dream is motivated by revenge, among other things; Malcolm, who sports a bright turquoise wristwatch, has had it with Mets fans spraying over his best tags. "I'm really sick of that corny blue and orange," he says. "On everything!"
A fast-talking specimen, Malcolm has feelings for the gorgeous, tough Sofia, and vice versa. Neither really knows it yet. They harass each other with no end of guff and trash talk, but the affection between Leon's characters is genuine. So are the sweetness and sure-footedness of Leon's debut feature.
Malcolm and Sofia do a lot of things for money, many of them illegal. They need $500 to pull off the apple-bombing raid, and much of "Gimme the Loot" concerns how they try to raise the money. Malcolm works now and then as a marijuana courier. One delivery takes him to the apartment of a well-to-do girl (her mother's away in Nantucket for the weekend) named Ginnie, played by Zoe Lescaze. In the space of 5 or 10 minutes of screen time, the first encounter of Malcolm and Ginnie leads to a kiss, and far from a mere plot point, writer-director Leon has the good sense to linger on both characters' reactions to what happens. The banter between these two sounds authentically awkward, like real teenagers caught in this situation. (Malcolm uses the word "hippie"; his flirtatious, insecure new friend says that the word's long gone — "it's an olden-times thing.")
A robbery is planned: Malcolm, Sofia and Sofia's sketchy connection, Champion (portrayed by Meeko, a raspy-voiced natural), hatch a plot to boost Ginnie's apartment of some of its jewelry. In the second scene between Malcolm and Ginnie, their connection is gone; surrounded by her snotty friends, Ginnie no longer allows herself any real kindness toward the boy she dismissively refers to as "the drug dealer." It's a quietly heartbreaking sequence, but like everything in "Gimme the Loot," it makes its point and darts onward.
This is a true New York movie, though in its ear and eye for atmospheric beauty it feels more French. There's barely enough narrative to sustain even an 81-minute picture, yet a sweet spirit buoys this quick-witted, amiably foul-mouthed indie. Leon favors long, uninterrupted conversational takes, on basketball courts, on crowded sidewalks, at house parties. Leon has said that he wanted to make "Gimme the Loot" "more about the joys of youth than the perils of it." It'd be a mistake to inflate expectations, but the result is special. Leon's a comer. He likes his characters, brought to life by a fine young cast. And despite the casual criminality on view, we like them too.