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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Life + Arts

‘Boogie’ falls flat as a debut sports film

'Boogie' movie review Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

It’s hard to make a good sports film. Actually, it’s incredibly hard. For every “Remember The Titans,” there’s a “Draft Day,” and for every “Rocky IV,” there’s a “Rocky Balboa.”

That’s why when directors are able to capture the essence that sports bring to our lives, the stories that they tell have the ability to live on forever.

Eddie Huang’s debut on the big screen in “Boogie” makes “Rocky Balboa” look like “Citizen Kane.” 

The film  follows an Asian American high school student who is supposedly a basketball phenom as he attempts to navigate the recruiting process, relationships and family dynamics, all while attempting to understand how his race factors into each of the above.

This is unfortunately nothing more than a glorified table read.

Not only does “Boogie” disappoint in each of the most basic aspects of a film, writing, acting and cinematography, it lazily hijacks the most notable elements of African American ’90s and early 2000s cinema without paying any sort of homage whatsoever.

Early on, we are told the films main character Alfred (Boogie) played by Taylor Takahashi, is a basketball star who has transferred to a new school as part of he and his father’s plan to propel him towards the NBA. 

The film’s summary describes Alfred as a basketball phenom, yet Huang does absolutely nothing to prove to us that this is the case. 

Never mind the fact Alfred has zero college scholarship offers as a senior, or the absence of statistics to show that he’s been dominant on the court since a young age or the fact that the actor who plays Alfred is listed at about 5-foot-10-inches.

There are no stories told about Alfred dunking on a player ranked higher than him or dropping 50 on someone’s head at Rucker Park. We are simply told that he is a phenom and we’re supposed to roll with it.

The film’s depiction of athletics in general is nauseating. This includes an awkward weight room scene in which, for some reason, the basketball team is lifting weights with two young ladies who seemingly are the most popular girls in school. 

What should irk viewers right away though, is the fact that everyone in the film looks 37.

This is something that I thought directors and casting agents working on high school stories were finished with, due to the fact that this sort of mismanagement has become something of a punchline on social media in recent years.

When it becomes clear that Alfred’s temper is withholding him from opportunities to further pursue his dream of professional basketball, his mother hires a recruiting agent to oversee the process.

Besides this being an entirely fictional career in regards to high school sports, an amateur athlete working with an agent in any capacity is definitely illegal.

As the film progresses, a main gripe with the plot becomes more and more blatant.

We never see why Alfred deserves a shot. He doesn’t seem like a nice person, and we never get a chance to see that he’s a beast on the court. Still, whether he will or will not make it in sports seems to be the driving force behind the story and that makes no sense. 

Alfred begins to fall for a girl in his class named Eleanor, who is played by Taylour Paige. The two have solid chemistry, but the dialogue written for them prevents the magic an on-screen couple needs in order to be believable.

What their conversations come across as is nothing more than two pre-teens who don’t quite know how to flirt.

The antagonist of the film is Monk, a basketball player at the school’s cross-town rival, played by the late rapper Pop Smoke.

Smoke performs well in this role, but it’s much more limited than the marketing of the film will have you believe, which argues the possibility that those who are in charge of the film’s rollout have attempted to use his death at the ticket booth. 

At times, it feels like Huang was going for a vibe similar to “You Got Served,” “Juice” or “Above the Rim” with the film, but the knowledge that he lacks in multiple areas stunts the potential of the film fairly quickly.

We don’t see much character growth from anyone throughout the film. In fact, what the movie feels like is honestly just one bad decision after another. 

At the end of the film, suddenly everyone is on the same page without any explanation on how they got there.

We’re left wanting more, and not in a good way. 

Viewers can’t help but think about how so many of the issues in “Boogie” would have been solved by dropping the high school shtick and committing fully to a street ball universe where adults handle their problems like adults. 

“Boogie” regurgitates chewed up material Huang likely consumed as a child, and reveals itself as a project that he simply did not have the skill to properly put together. 

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