(director: Carlos López Estrada; screenwriters: Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs; cinematographer: Robby Baumgartner; editor: Gabriel Fleming; music: Michael Yezerski; cast: Daveed Diggs (Collin), Rafael Casal(Miles), Jasmine Cephas Jones (Ashley), Janina Gavankar (Val), Ethan Embry(Officer Molina), Utkarsh Ambudkar(Rin), Rolanda D. Bell (Nak), Casey Adams (Chet), John K. Moeslein (Sid), Lance Holloway (Curtis ‘Cuttie’ Cutworth), Justin Chu Cary (Tin), George Watsky (Tanner), Kendra Andrews (Rachel Molina), Sara Kay (Angela); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs, Keith Calder, Jessica Calder; Lionsgate; 2018)

For the most part an insightful urban indie dramedy that intelligently reflects on violence and race issues, using comedy and rap music to its advantage.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

For the most part an insightful urban indie dramedy that intelligently reflects on violence and race issues, using comedy and rap music to its advantage. In his feature film drama debut Carlos López Estrada tells it the way it is in current Oakland. The writers Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal also star in the film, and are pals in real-life. They create an exuberant screenplay whose glaring fault is that it’s stilted. Diggs won a Tony for playing both Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in Broadway’s Hamilton. Collin (Daveed Diggs) is a gentle and cautious giant with dreads, a black ex-con trying to stay clean with only three days left on probation. Miles (Rafael Casal) is a tattooed trouble-making, hot-head white dude, responsible for his best friend Collin’s prison time. The two are furniture movers in their Oakland residence, where both are horrified of the increased gentrification in Oakland due to the Bay Area tech explosion (the high rents pushing out the poor blacks from their homes for the white yuppies). The two friends pass the time by rapping together rather than talking much. Trouble arises when Collin witnesses a white cop shoot an unarmed black man in a street chase. Collin chills knowing if he vents his anger, he’ll likely be sent back to the slammer. His aim is to go straight and win back his ex-girlfriend Val (Janina Gavankar). She works with the guys at the moving company. Val distrusts Miles because he has a quick temper and often uses poor judgment. After buying a gun in the street, Miles unnerves his wife Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) by bringing home the gun and letting their young son play with it as if it were a toy.

The streets of Oakland are rife with skateboarders, hipsters, techies, the homeless, police brutality, crime and racial unrest. Tension builds until it reaches a boiling point when Collin can’t hold it in any longer and confronts the guilt-ridden white cop (Ethan Embry) with his dastardly deed when accidentally meeting him again. From here-on, the narrative steers clear of any more comedy and gets serious over the issues of violence, politics and racial matters. It goes wildly off in many directions and chooses to at last spell things out in hip-hop songs expressing the rage, fears and concerns the street-wise friends feel.

Though this dueling song-fest was innovative and somewhat moving, it was also awkward and banal. But it led to a conclusion that was open for further discussion on the serious issues raised. The ‘buddy film’ has its pulse on the contemporary Oakland scene, leaving us with a thoughtful but flawed film about their beloved changing Oakland.