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Crossover

(2006) * Pg-13
95 min. Sony Pictures Releasing. Director: Preston A. Whitmore II. Cast: Anthony Mackie, Shelli Boone, Wayne Brady, Alecia Jai Fears, Michael Kimbrew.

Wayne Brady's squeaky-clean image as a songster-comic was simultaneously mocked and refuted on Chappelle's Show, where Brady infamously deadpanned, "Is Wayne Brady gonna have to choke a bitch?" The talented Brady deserved a legit chance to show his dramatic chops, but the street-basketball melodrama Crossover ain't it. A cheap-looking quickie feature, Crossover begins with Brady cruising the mean streets of Detroit, only reminding us of the unintentional humor in seeing Brady shutter his smiling wattage.

Brady plays Vaughn, a former sports agent turned underground-basketball bookie. His talent roster includes Cruise (Wesley Jonathan) and Tech (Anthony Mackie of Half Nelson and She Hate Me), two old friends with parallel lives and a shared secret. The ruthless Vaughn wants Cruise to sacrifice his UCLA scholarship for a possible pro career, while Tech harbors resentment at having to plod for his GED in Cruise's shadow. Meanwhile, the two pursue "breezies": Vanessa (Eva Pigford) and Eboni (Alecia Fears).

The underground basketball games allow "razzle dazzle" (a.k.a. showboating), which helps to hold audience attention at the outset and in the satisfying climactic game. In between, we watch Tech hustle a few basketball games with young Up (Little JJ), but writer-director Preston A. Whitmore II devotes the lion's share of the movie to his overcooked dramatic dialogue—slackly paced, flatly shot in digital video, and laughably scored.

The wasted talent on display somehow makes it all more painful: what a shame that Mackie finds himself forced to play an erratic hothead that we're expected to like. Crossover's only real saving grace is that its heart is in the right place: time and again we're reminded that education should come first, above pro-ball hoop dreams. But young viewers can find the same message much more compelling delivered in Hoop Dreams or Coach Carter. Crossover just doesn't have the right moves.

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