‘Boost’ Review: Humble Theft Auto


Movie Rating:


‘Boost’ is a movie that you’ve seen many times before. Two young friends get caught up in criminality, one with a future who reluctantly joins a life of crime and one who doesn’t and pushes the pair down a dark path with only one possible outcome (note: not a good one). Call it “Coming of Age Through Crime” or something much less wordy and on-the-nose, but these things are incredibly common. The difference comes down to how it’s executed, and ‘Boost’ is one of the better versions to emerge in the last few years.

Set in the fringes of Montreal, ‘Boost’ centers on African Canadian teens Hakeem (Nabil Rajo) and A-Mac (Jahmil French). The story opens with two getting booted out of their French-language high school class for flirting and swearing. It’s clear they aren’t particularly comfortable with French (even though they’re bilingual), which ain’t great in Quebec. Hakeem’s life is essentially unsupervised, while A-Mac has a worrier mother who struggles to keep him in line. The pair also work part time in a car wash run by Hakeem’s uncle, Ramaz (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine), where they’re looked down on by the staff for getting their jobs from nepotism. Hakeem and A-Mac put together that Ramaz’s car wash is a front for a lucrative car robbery ring. The mostly Slavic staff pick valuable vehicles from the business and then sell them to the local underworld. One night, Hakeem and A-Mac decide to boost a car to join the more profitable side of the business. Obviously, that decision doesn’t go good places.

All of this (plus the title) makes ‘Boost’ sound like a grand theft thriller, which it is at times, but not quite in the ways you’d think. Writer/director Darren Curtis (a former sketch comedy player who made the brilliant and criminally underappreciated hipster satire ‘Who Is KK Downey?’ in 2008) is far more interested in character and place than crime movie dramatics. In youngsters Rajo and French, Curtis found remarkable presences to ground his film. The two are naturals. It barely even feels like they’re acting. Their story is more about awakening and maturation than ‘Fast and Furious’-style shenanigans. The movie touches on all the forms of alienation and discrimination they face over race, language, class, dating, and family without being preachy, yet in ways that resonate deeply. Curtis allowed his leads to bring their own experiences and pains into the screenplay, and it hits the marks while still remaining subtext.

Curtis also knows Montreal well and how to shoot the city in ways that feel both oppressively desolate and beautifully alive with possibilities. That’s all folded in quietly through style and structure more dialed in on observational realism than showy cinema. Of course, while all these subtleties and observations sneak into the story well, the film is always barreling headfirst toward a crime movie resolution. ‘Boost’ nimbly switches gears without losing its sense of realism. As the teens slide into an underground crime ring, the world remains more pathetically real than theatrical in genre movie ways. Curtis creates villains out of the stock black SUVs, leather jackets, and generically threatening European accents that have been around since ‘Taken’, but thankfully they never feel cartoonish or unbelievable. Tension runs high and the few little action sequences hit home without stretching too far outside the delicate sense of reality that Curtis nails elsewhere.

Some viewers might feel disappointed when the compelling human drama shifts into crime movie thrills, and others will wonder why so much time is spent on subtle observation rather than getting right to the guns and chases. That’s how it goes. Those who appreciate the intriguing little mash-up that Darren Curtis weaves will be pleased by the mixture of drama and thrills. Even though it’s a story that has essentially been told before, the world and characters are so unique that the old tricks seem fresh.

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