‘Boogie’ is an Airball
When it comes to sports in movies, basketball – for some reason – seems to be one of the most difficult to pull off.
It also seems like in terms “good vs. bad,” there’s no in-between – they’re either on the really good side with ‘Hoosiers’ and ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ or the really bad side with ‘Slam Dunk Ernest’ and ‘Space Jam.’ (Sorry, nostalgia doesn’t equal quality.)
Eddie Huang’s feature directorial debut ‘Boogie’ has undoubtedly decided to pull up a seat next to Michael Jordan and Jim Varney.
Taylor Takahashi stars as Alfred ‘Boogie’ Chin in director Eddie Huang’s ‘Boogie,’ a Focus Features release. (Credit: David Giesbrecht / Focus Features)
Boogie (Taylor Takahashi) is a New York City high school basketball star, who happens to be Asian American.
Despite having no NCAA scholarship offers, Boogie and his ex-con father (played by Perry Yung) are steadfast in their collective dream for Boogie to reach the NBA. His mother (played by Pamelyn Chee), however, is less concerned about the NBA and more focused on Boogie – and the family’s – long-term well-being.
The first step on the path to NBA success, at least in father and son’s minds, is for Boogie to go head-to-head with and beat Monk (Pop Smoke) – the widely-recruited, alpha of the NYC high school basketball scene.
The only way to do that is to transfer to a new school where Boogie encounters a whole new set of challenges – new coaches and teammates (and their expectations of him/his game), new teachers, and a new girlfriend, Eleanor (Taylour Paige). Boogie must face each head on, while not taking his eye off the prize.
Taylor Takahashi stars as Boogie and Pop Smoke as Monk in director Eddie Huang’s ‘Boogie,’ a Focus Features release. (Credit: David Giesbrecht / Focus Features)
First things first: the one big thing about ‘Boogie’ that should be praised is that it features an Asian American in the lead role. This story could easily have been told from either a Black or white perspective (minus some very out-of-place flashbacks) and accomplished the same thing narratively. However, we’ve seen those coming-of-age hoops stories before (‘Above the Rim,’ ‘Blue Chips’). Not only is it an Asian American drama, which aren’t numerous, but it also piggybacks a sport that is incredibly popular in Asia, which could get more eyes on this movie. (My basketball card collection thanks the Asian market for loving the NBA.)
The only other noteworthy thing about ‘Boogie’ is the performance of Chee – she gives off the intense Asian mother vibes my Asian friends talk about, but it never feels unnatural or too over-the-top. Let’s call it balanced intensity.
But that’s pretty much where the positives end.
Taylor Takahashi stars as Alfred ‘Boogie’ Chin and Taylour Paige as Eleanor in Eddie Huang’s ‘Boogie,’ a Focus Features release. (Credit: Nicole Rivelli / Focus Features)
Basketball movies are very much a balancing act. They’re almost never exclusively about the basketball, so the cast needs to be capable of delivering the comedic or dramatic punch the story needs. However, because the game is the thing that ties the whole story together, the action needs to be at least somewhat believable – greatness isn’t necessary, but it can’t be distractingly bad.
Oftentimes, one is sacrificed for the other … ‘Boogie’ is a case where neither the acting nor basketball does the story any favors.
The basketball “action” is on par with that episode of ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ where Will tries to impress the college scouts by taking every shot, and the acting is reminiscent of what the real-life basketball players (Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway and Matt Nover) in the aforementioned ‘Blue Chips’ delivered.
While the main theme is common coming-of-age fare, with the added layer of Boogie being Asian in a sport where Asians aren’t commonplace, the rest of it is a mess. The dialogue is clunky and forced; the flashbacks that were (I think) meant as a way to connect Boogie’s journey with his parents’ was at best a stretch; and what would be relatively mundane moments everywhere else are overemphasized in an attempt to add depth.
It’s hard to say whether the fault falls on the actors, Huang (who also wrote and produced), or some combination, but the end result is that unless you’ve got a hankering for a ho-hum basketball drama or really need to see Asian Americans on screen (an acceptable reason), your time is probably better spent elsewhere.
★ of ★★★★★