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August 1, 2006 |

By Miscellaneous | Film | August 1, 2006 |

It’s not in my nature to be dishonest, so I’m gonna lay it out straight: Crossover is a movie that tried really hard. I think it truly wanted to be a passionate statement about overcoming circumstance — circumstance of upbringing, bad luck, bad choices, you name it — and succeeding on your own terms, by your own definition. The story revolves around the friendship of college-bound basketball virtuoso Cruise (Wesley Jonathan) and underground streetball player Tech (Anthony Mackie). As Cruise prepares to ride his scholarship to medical school, his friend works to catch up after a stint in prison, and a good bit of the film revolves around Tech studying for the GED in between basketball games and work. Added to the mix is Vaughn, the organizer/gambling kingpin/club owner played by Wayne Brady (yes, that one) and young baller protege, Up (Little JJ).

Starting with the good: The basketball scenes were pretty damn exciting. I can’t speak to authenticity, because the only basketball I ever played was in my own driveway in semi-rural New York and the closest I’ve ever come to streetball is watching the And1 guys do their thing. But entertaining and authentic are two different things, and I wasn’t bored when the ball was in motion, so, y’know, that’s something.

Alas, there’s not much more to recommend here. The story was too disjointed to satisfy, with more than one superfluous storyline that either served as an excuse to show more balling (so, not so bad) or that introduced completely unnecessary characters and situations. For all the time spent ostensibly developing character and setting, there’s not a lot of depth here. The love interests seemed, well, uninterested, but I’ll come to that in a moment. More critically, it seems like the purposes the female characters ended up serving could well have been accomplished without adding all the complications of two more unconvincing character expositions. The character of Vaughn’s estranged girlfriend seems to have been included only to set up his explanation of the rules of streetball in the most unimaginative way possible.

The film’s major downfall is pretty straightforward: You can’t make a passionate statement without actually cultivating some legitimate passion. Truly, every dialogue scene was stilted and wooden, leaving the audience engaged in a desperate struggle to care, wishing they would cut to some more trash talking, trick dribbling, and slam dunks. I hesitate to blame the actors entirely, not because I can vouch for them, but because I’m well aware that even great actors look stupid when the script is DOA. Still, no free passes — the acting really was pretty much universally awful and where it wasn’t, it was more puzzling than anything.

And yes, I’m talking about Wayne Brady when I say puzzling. OK, look, everyone on the internets has surely seen his turn on “Chappelle’s Show.” This is a guy who takes a lot of shit for being who he is, so I always thought the Chappelle thing was his way of saying, “Look everyone, I can play a gangsta, but I really don’t want to, K? OK.” Now, granted, the Vaughn character here is hardly pimping or selling drugs or pulling drive-bys, but it’s close enough to make me wonder if that skit was more of an audition than a send-up. Regardless, no one’s fooled and, while he’s a talented guy and a solid actor, in the back of my mind I really just kept expecting Colin Mochrie to jump out of his ride with Greg Proops and a purple foam pool float or something in tow. Perhaps I’m at fault for pigeonholing the guy, but what can you do? That’s how we know him.

From the standpoint of style and camerawork, again, the basketball scenes left little to be desired, but the rest was often jarring and I lost count of how many montage scenes there were: studying montages, partying montages, “dealing with stuff” montages, city life montages. Oy. My eyes started glazing over; honestly, a man can only handle so many quick transitions.

There’s a good heart buried somewhere under all this mess, which makes it all the more unfortunate. Crossover wants you to leave with the message that sports aren’t the avenue to success for any but a select few; that education is the surer course for essentially everyone. Unfortunately, it all kind of gets lost in the shuffle; the fact is that the only moments where anyone appears to express genuine emotion or possess any kind of anima occur on the court. In that context, I’m not sure it matters how many times Cruise turns down Vaughn’s offers to get him into the NBA because he’s determined to be a doctor, or how genuinely hard Tech works for his GED. The characters themselves belie their words by not appearing to actually care that much about anything other than basketball, so really, why should the audience? I think the message is a virtuous one, and healthy, but it’s really a bit of a blunt object lesson that’s going to have a tough time overpowering the high-adrenaline flamboyance of the slam dunks. Alas, for good intentions gone hopelessly awry.

Kerry Benton is a film critic for Pajiba. You can see him in action as “k” on The Supernicety.

It Tries Really Hard not to Suck

Crossover / Kerry Benton

Film | August 1, 2006 |

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