Two young New York graffiti-bombers, always on the hustle, come up with an idea to get back at the Mets fans who’ve been painting over their tags: They’re going to sneak into Citi Field and spray a message on its big red apple. But they have no money, so they start finding angles to work. Lanky goofball Ty Hickson swipes some weed from the dealers he delivers for sometimes, and sells it to arty rich kid Zoe Lescaze, while scoping out what she might have in her apartment that he could steal. Meanwhile, his scrappy, foul-mouthed partner Tashiana Washington tries to unload some of the merchandise she’s helped herself to lately: a cell phone, some paint cans, and a pair of sneakers. Each caper necessitates another caper, pushing them further away from their original plan, but at least giving them something to do to occupy a few hot summer days.
Writer-director Adam Leon’s debut feature Gimme The Loot has an energy that’s been missing from independent film lately. It’s not dreary or quirky; not excessively stylish or stubbornly formless. From the opening scene of Hickson and Washington shoplifting paint—complete with a getaway shot that could be an homage to Gun Crazy—Gimme The Loot is as on-the-go as its two antiheroes, roaming all over the city to the beat of a retro R&B soundtrack that even the most ardent crate-digger would envy. It’s a bright, lively movie, with a vision of New York as a multicultural free-for-all, where everybody’s always looking to see what they can take from everybody else. Leon’s not going for gritty realism here. His dialogue sounds like dialogue (and is sometimes too cute for its own good), his actors behave like actors (albeit with more charm and naturalism than the average novice), and he doesn’t appear to have any deep interest in the particulars of graffiti culture, beyond how it can serve the plot. His main goal—rare and refreshing for this kind of film—is to entertain.
Some may find that irresponsible, how Leon builds his movie around a couple of affable, conscienceless criminals and doesn’t pass any judgment on what they do, or try to blame society for how these kids turned out. But Gimme The Loot isn’t devoid of meaning, either. Leon’s not heavy-handed about it, but the movie is keenly aware of how gender divides Washington from the thugs she runs with, and how the class differences between Hickson and Lescaze keep them from connecting on anything beyond a surface level. But Gimme The Loot explores these divisions with sweetness and humor, and roots them in two characters who may be a couple of dopes, but are also resourceful and observant in ways that make them easy to like. It’s like what Hickson says to Lescaze when they talk about their favorite foods, and he settles on a mint-flavored milkshake. “Fuck vanilla,” he boasts. “I’m more interesting than that.”