For a film about graffiti writers, Gimme the Loot doesn’t dig too deep into the culture of tagging, but it’s not really about that art form anyway. Instead, writer-director Adam Leon presents a nose-to-the-ground portrait of two believably aspirational protagonists and their constant hustle to make good on the movie’s eponymous demand. All life’s a hustle for young Bronx graf duo Sofia (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson), making ends meet by selling weed and shoplifting, while trying to establish their tag against the sabotaging efforts of an archrival Queens crew. That their ultimate goal—“bombing” Citi Field’s Home Run Apple—shifts the focus from tangible, materialist concern to the pursuit of questionable glory, may complicate the film’s priorities, but with the low-key comic vibe that Leon successfully maintains and his pair of sharply sketched characters, it’s easy enough to go along for the ride.
Unfolding against a crisply lensed cross-borough backdrop (this is a movie that actually manages to interact with its real-life locations), Gimme the Loot is simultaneously a caper movie and a character study. As we watch Sofia and Malcolm try every scam in the book in order to raise the $500 necessary to bribe their way behind the scenes at the Mets’ stadium, Leon revels in the pair’s saucy verbal exchanges that are both necessary assertions of bravado and disguises for the sublimated romantic feelings running between the two. While the film establishes Sofia as a tough-talking city girl whose sassiness is her way of fending off the aggressive guys in her neighborhood, Malcolm’s playa pose seems far more an affectation, even if, in context, an understandable one.
Leon keeps the romantic angle on a low burn, never allowing his film to stray too far from the materialist dictates that define the characters’ lives. Class is everything here, a point made clear when Malcolm engages in an aborted sexual encounter with a rich white girl, and then returns later only to be condescended to by her well-heeled friends. Mostly, though, this is a film about both the pleasures and the emptiness of the hustle. The tone remains light, and nothing too great seems to be at stake (which is probably why the film’s ending feels so abrupt and, ultimately, unsatisfying), but in the behaviors of his characters, the mapping out of their urban environment, and the ever present dictates of the dollar, Leon gets at the driving forces that shape his protagonists’ loot-driven world.