He Got Game

***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Spike Lee wants his basketball movie to look right. He doesn't want White Men Can't Jump. He picks Ray Allen, the 22-year-old Milwakee Bucks guard, as his lead. Allen is no actor, like Denzel Washington is no basketball pro. Washington plays Allen's father in the film.

There are two, maybe three, stories going on here. Jesus Shuttleworth (Allen) is rated top US high school basketball player. As a result everyone wants a piece of him - Uncle Bubba (Bill Nunn) who is his guardian, girlfriend Lala (Rosario Dawson) who is two-timing with a prospective agent and every university coach in the land. He is offered fistfuls of dollars, big-breasted babes, seriously sexy cars, a platinum and diamond Rolex and just about anything he fancies. For a poor kid from the Coney Island projects, these temptations feel tainted with avarice.

Jake (Washington), his dad, is doing a long stretch for killing his mom. The prison warden offers him a deal. He'll let him out for a supervised period so that he can persuade Jesus to sign for the State governor's favourite university. In exchange, the governor will look sympathetically on his parole application. This is the kind of petty corruption Jake expects from those in authority. There is one problem, however. Jesus won't speak to Jake. He feared him as a kid for being such a tough coach and hates him now for what he did to the family. "You're not my father," is his attitude. "I don't have a father."

The third story involves Dakota (Milla Jovovich), a prostitute, who stays with her abusive pimp in the room next to Jake's in the seedy boarding house. Their "relationship" seems predictable and of no lasting value. It is like the college chicks, who offer themselves to Jesus, an excuse for girls-on-top rumpy, shot in lurid lighting and fleshy close up.

It appears that Lee has discovered slo-mo and cannot get enough of it. Ever since Chariots Of Fire, movies with a sporting theme present the body as a work of art so that the word "balletic" can be used again without embarrassment. Spike's storytelling skills are disfigured by a rash of flashbacks, which impair the credibility of crucial plot statements. Jake didn't murder his wife. It was an accident. Also, 10-year-old Jesus showed no aptitude, nor interest, in a game for which he was being forced to train. Why would he continue after his dad was put away?

The film is uneven and, at times, sentimental, with a terrific performance from Washington in a less than glamorous role. Allen is better on court than off, although for a non-actor he does alright. Lee loves basketball and yet makes it look like a big-business-meets-exploitable-talent thing. The uninitiated might be forgiven for thinking that it lacks the finesse of, say, cricket and is biased in favour of skinny tall guys.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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He Got Game packshot
A jailbird dad tries to reconnect with his basketball prodigy son, so that he can broker a shorter sentence.
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Director: Spike Lee

Writer: director Spike Lee

Starring: Denzel Washington, Ray Allen, Milla Jovovich, Rosario Dawson, Hill Harper, Zelda Harris, Ned Beatty, Jim Brown, Joseph Lyle Taylor, Bill Nunn, Michele Shay

Year: 1997

Runtime: 136 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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