Benjamin Morgan's first film revolves around the fraying friendship between two underprivileged graffiti artists in San Francisco's scruffy Mission District. Mikey Rosario (Lane Garrison), a tagger named "Heir," has been tagging since he was a kid; his best friend, Curtis Smith (Brian Burnam), calls himself "Vain." Both grew up without middle-class advantages, but Mikey is the significantly better off of the two: His father, Pops (Luis Saguar), owns his own house-painting business, and his grandmother (Bryna Weiss) keeps a maternal eye on both of them. Curtis has no one but his girlfriend, graphic designer Lisa (Mackenzie Firgens), and while she has her own obstacles to overcome she's a single mother with a small son (Gerald Black) she's clearly several rungs farther up the ladder of success. Curtis and Mikey both work as day laborers for Pops, but Curtis' self-destructive streak consistently gets in the way of his already limited chances of getting ahead. In addition, new "quality of life" laws designed to reduce urban blight put graffiti writing in the same legal category as prostitution and drug use or dealing, which means taggers face tougher penalties than ever before. The turning point for Mikey and Curtis comes when they're both busted. They draw relatively lenient sentences: a week in jail, community service and the promise of a year's hard time if they violate the conditions of their parole. Mikey buckles down and starts thinking seriously about the future, while Curtis is more defiant than ever: Pops fires him, and he starts a fistfight at the club/gallery where Dino (Tajai Massey, of the Oakland-based hip-hop collective Hieroglyphics), a local who's started making a reputation as an artist, is having his first show. Morgan's indie drama gets a boost from vivid performances by leads Garrison and Burnam, who also cowrote the rough-and-tumble screenplay. But like the New York-based graffiti film BOMB THE SYSTEM (2005), it has trouble circumventing the fundamental fact that however loudly graffiti artists proclaim their work as a legitimate effort to give poor and disenfranchised young people a high-profile outlet for their voices, an awful lot of people see nothing more than vandalism that disproportionately disfigures the very neighborhoods most in need of face-lifts. And while Burnam and Garrison imbue their characters with authentic-feeling frustration and anger, they never succeed in making them especially interesting; it's hard to care in any serious way what becomes of either.
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- Released: 2004
- Rating: NR
- Review: Benjamin Morgan's first film revolves around the fraying friendship between two underprivileged graffiti artists in San Francisco's scruffy Mission District. Mikey Rosario (Lane Garrison), a tagger named "Heir," has been tagging since he was a kid; his bes… (more)