This is one air ball of a movie, a talented cast and an appealing idea stranded by a clunky script. It shoots. And it shoots and shoots and shoots, but it never scores.
Tech (Anthony Mackie) works in the mall, studies for his G.E.D., hustles money at the basketball court, and plays “street basketball” under the direction of Vaughn (Wayne Brady). The losing team gets $1000 each, the winners get $2000, the high-rollers get to place bets and see some X-treme b-ball, with every basket a dunk and only “flagrant fouls” prohibited.
Tech’s best friend is Noah Cruise (Wesley Jonathan, “Sweetness” in Roll Bounce), planning to go to college on a basketball scholarship, and then to med school. He will lose his eligibilty for the scholarship if he plays for money. But Tech, remininding Cruise that “you owe me,” persuades him to join the team, Enemy of the State” for one game. They lose to the champions, led by the arrogant Jewelz (Philip Champion).
Tech and Cruise meet two girls, Eboni and Vanessa and quickly become involved. They bring the girls with them to LA for Cruise’s college orientation and Tech’s chance to shoot hoops in a television commercial. But things begin to go badly, and by the time one final streetball game against Jewelz’ team a great deal is depending on the final score.
There are a couple of good ideas here. An early shot shows girls seated at computer terminals managing the betting line in an understated parallel to the many similar set-ups in movies about drug dealers. It’s nice to see the portrayal of a character whose highest aspiration is not an NBA contract. And the cast does its best with what it has, especially Jonathan and Lil JJ as Tech’s young friend Up.
But the dialogue is deadly, either clunky exposition (“Joe’s in jail and he didn’t pay the light bill!”) or faux “street” (“I can’t front. I’m feeling you. But I can’t put myself out there unless I know if you’re for real.”) the only person who can sustain this kind of melodrama mashup is Tyler Perry, and this doesn’t have anything close to the sincerity that anchors his films. The tricked-up MTV-style quick cuts are tired. So I’m not fronting when I say that I’m not feeling it. None of the characters or relationships or situations or dialogue is for real, you hear what I’m sayin’?
Parents should know that this movie includes strong language, a graphic car/motorcycle crash, and sexual references and non-explicit situations. Couples have sex the same day they meet, with consequent issues of betrayal and trust. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of values of loyalty and independent thinking, taking responsibility for your actions, and the importance of education.
Families who see this movie should talk about how far you must go and how much you must risk to repay a friend who does you a great favor. They should also talk about why Cruise trusted Vanessa and why Tech did not trust Eboni, and about the ultimate choices Cruise and Tech make about their futures.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Fast and the Furious. This film lifts many of its plot developments from better movies, including An Officer and a Gentleman, Body and Soul, and Angels with Dirty Faces.