‘Boogie’: In its portrayal of basketball, culture-clash drama fouls out
The story of a Chinese American kid’s hoop dreams is hard to enjoy when the depictions of the game are so wrongheaded.
Block or charge?
The first foul committed by the culture-clash basketball drama “Boogie” is a fundamental lack of understanding about how the recruiting game works when it comes to major colleges and blue-chip high school prospects.
Focus Features presents a film written and directed by Eddie Huang. Rated R (for language throughout including sexual references, and some drug use). Running time: 90 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.
The second offense: basketball sequences supposedly depicting New York City high school hoops at the highest level, but nobody appears to be taller than about 6-foot-1 and the games move at a relatively slow pace, with the players appearing to be average at best.
Another problem is the title character is borderline likable. He’s a basically decent kid, but he can be rude and crude — and even more damning, he’s not all that interesting. Compared to Ray Allen’s Jesus Shuttlesworth in “He Got Game,” Penny Hardaway’s Butch McRae in “Blue Chips” or Duane Martin’s Kyle Lee Watson in “Above the Rim” (all real-life hoopsters playing fictional characters), Taylor Takahashi as Boogie is solid but just doesn’t have the same level of game, on or off the court.
Writer-director Eddie Huang (“Fresh Off the Boat”) gives “Boogie” an authentic and gritty docudrama look as we meet Takahashi’s Alfred Chin, who has recently transferred to City Prep High School because it offers better basketball opportunities and tells the English teacher who calls him Alfred on the first day of class, “I prefer my stripper name, Boogie.” Charming.
Boogie has grown up in a strict and chilly household where disappointment permeates the air. His father (Perry Yung) is a schemer and dreamer who has run afoul of the law and is completely irresponsible even as he lectures his son, and his mother (Pamelyn Chee) is a harsh and bitter woman who constantly voices regret over her choice of husband, literally slaps Boogie when he lets her down and goes behind Boogie’s back to arrange a deal for Boogie to play pro basketball in China when it appears no college scholarships are forthcoming.
Which brings us to one of the aforementioned plot stumbling blocks. According to the narrative, Boogie’s future hinges almost solely on whether he and City Prep can defeat a powerhouse team led by the No. 1 high school prospect in New York City, a trash-talking phenom known as Monk (played by the late Bashar Jackson, who performed under the name Pop Smoke). “If we stick to our plans and beat Monk, we get our shot at the NBA,” says one of the many adult voices in Boogie’s ear. But prep basketball isn’t like the Olympic boxing trials; sure, it would make an impression on scouts if Boogie played well against his top rival in a pivotal game, but scholarships aren’t won or lost depending on the final score in one high school contest.
“Boogie” has a provocative premise as we see the title character trying to make his mark in a sport where few Chinese Americans have excelled. (Jeremy Lin is mentioned, but not in the highest regard.) There’s also a tender and involving romance involving Boogie and a Black classmate named Eleanor (Taylour Paige), who brings out the best in Boogie and helps him mature. Alas, the basketball scenes and the basketball talk in this basketball movie continually bounce the wrong way, and there’s no overcoming that.