Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Kicks Movie Poster Image
Poignant, mature indie drama about a teen and his sneakers.
  • R
  • 2016
  • 80 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Watch out for and stick by your friends, to protect and help them in times of need. Children shouldn't have to witness acts of violence because of a parent.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters are flawed and make mistakes. Albert and Rico are good friends to Brandon, and Brandon's older cousins do help him.


Gun violence and shootings; many men (some teens, some young adults) pull out guns. Several beatings that are scary and bloody and leave young men severely injured. A car accidentally runs over a young man, presumably killing him.


Explicit discussions of sexual acts. In one scene, a girl is shown performing implied oral sex on a guy in a high school courtyard. A guy experiences his first make-out session in which a girl takes off her top (she's shown in her bra). Kissing.


Near-constant strong language, including too-many-to-count uses of "f--k" and the "N" word (exclusively used by African Americans), as well as many uses of "s--t," "ass," "a--hole," "p---y," "bitch," "bitch-ss," "rape you N-word," "damn," etc.


Nike Air Jordans play a pivotal role in the story, and there's a lot of talk about all of the different kinds.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink, smoke cigarettes, and smoke marijuana socially. Underage teens and possibly young adults drink so much that they act drunk and look like they're about to get sick.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kicks is an independent drama about a Northern California teen willing to go to dangerous lengths to get back a pair of Nike Air Jordans stolen from him. Both the language and substance use are intense. Cursing is nearly constant (mostly "f--k" and the "N" word), and teens drink and smoke both pot and cigarettes frequently. It all seems realistic given the context of the story. There's also a lot of violence, including shootings and gun violence between teens/young adults, someone getting run over by a car accidentally, and several fist fights. Sexual content is occasionally graphic, with a quick glimpse of a girl performing implied oral sex on a boy at school and two kids who've just met hooking up (shirts off) in a bedroom at a party. The movie is best suited for older teens who are accustomed to seeing mature content.

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What's the story?

KICKS follows 15-year-old Brandon (Jahking Guillory), who lives in the East Bay and hangs with a couple of best friends. The one thing he wants more than anything is a pair of Nike Air Jordans. Brandon saves and saves, but they're more than $300. One day, a guy selling Jordans out of a van lets Brandon buy the original red-and-black models for $200. The teen is so victorious that he jubilantly throws his ratty old pair over the power line. But within a day, a crew of guys led by the violent Flaco (Kofi Siriboe) beats Brandon up and takes his prized sneakers. Bruised and angry, Brandon enlists his pals -- ladies' man Rico (Christopher Meyer) and big-talking Albert (Christopher Jordan Wallace) -- to join him on his mission: to head to Oakland and retrieve his beloved kicks, no matter the risk.

Is it any good?

This lyrical, raw drama is ambitiously directed, impressively performed, and -- despite a lot of style -- still has quite a bit of heartbreaking, thought-provoking substance. Guillory gives an evocative, nuanced performance, with his beautiful puffy hair practically deserving its own credit. He's balanced by his two best friends, both of whom follow him into dangerous waters even though they don't think he should risk it. Wallace (son of the late Notorious B.I.G. and R&B singer Faith Evans) is particularly funny as the girl-obsessed Albert, who talks about women like he's experienced, even though his friends swear he's barely even kissed a girl. Meyer is also believable as the real player of the crew, a handsome, charismatic athlete who's uninterested in participating in street violence -- but still has his friend's back.

It's not easy to sit through Kicks, especially if you're an adult who wants to shake these kids and say "they're just sneakers!" But when Brandon's middle-aged drug-dealer uncle says just that, Brandon replies: "They're not sneakers, they're Js." Considering that Brandon wears his mom's bathroom slippers on his journey to Oakland, it's no wonder the kid isn't going to let the Js go. Director Justin Tipping even manages to humanize Brandon's attacker, Flaco, who's given the sneakers to someone he loves. In the end, it's that love -- plus Brandon's plucky determination -- that saves the day.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Kicks. Does it feel realistic? How does it compare to what you might see in a superhero/action movie? Which has more impact?

  • How are drinking, drugs, and smoking portrayed in the movie? Are there realistic consequences? Why does that matter?

  • Is it believable that teens would be so obsessed with having Jordans? Can you think of any other similar status symbols?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Themes & Topics

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