(director/writer: Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden; cinematographer: Jac Fitzgerald; editor: Robert Komatsu; cast: Pedro Pascal (Clint), Jay Ellis (Sleepy Floyd), Normani (Entice), Dominique Thorne (Barbie), Ben Mendelsohn (The Guy), Ji-young yoo (Tina), Angus Cloud (Travis), Jack Champion (Lucid); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Poppy Hanks, Jelani Johnson, Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden; eOne Films; 2024)

“The diverse short stories never unite to make it a whole film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Co-directors and co-writers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (“Sugar”/”Captain Marvel”), regular collaborators and Sundance favorites, slickly present in four vaguely interconnected chapters this homage to the pop culture scene in Oakland in the late 1980s. It’s an anthology film, telling underdog stories that are shot as gonzo action comedy, filled with references to movies, rappers, a basketball legend and a street fight between punks and neo-Nazis.

The freaky period Oakland scene infectiously gets over, but the diverse short stories never unite to make it a whole film.

The first story is entitled “The Gilman Strikes Back.” In this raucous one, punks fight back against a group of bullying Nazis terrorizing the Bay Area. The punks are led by the lovers Tina (Ji-young yoo) and Lucid (Jack Champion).

The second chapter, “Don’t Fight the Feeling,” tells of a pair of badass Black women rappers, Barbie (Dominique Thorne) and Entice (Normani), called Danger Zone. They are not taken seriously by their men peers until their performances prove them to be genuine rappers. Also in this story is real-life Oakland rapper Too Short.

The third chapter, “Born to Mack,” stars Pedro Pascal as Clint, a hitman suffering a great loss. He must adjust to how fast his life has suddenly changed, and he fights back to at last become free to become his own person. Pascal’s great performance makes this chapter the film’s most nuanced.
The last chapter, “The Legend of Sleepy Floyd,” tells of the NBA star player on the Warriors, “Sleepy” Floyd (Jay Ellis). It raises him to a superstar level over his actions when he’s robbed in his home and victoriously fights back, resulting in a bloodbath.

It’s a dazzling but uneven film, somewhat unhinged, campy and bloody, with memories of a distant Oakland showing characters that failed to touch my heart.

It played at the Sundance Film Festival.