NEW YORK (CNS) — Sports films often try to inspire through a fictional story the same enthusiasm raised in the stands by whatever real-life pastime they happen to be portraying.
So it’s somewhat surprising that the basketball-themed drama “Boogie” (Focus) registers as more sullen than rousing. The movie’s streetwise tone, moreover, makes it a gritty experience even for grown viewers.
New York City-bred Chinese American high school basketball star Alfred Chin (newcomer Taylor Takahashi), from whose nickname the picture takes its title, aspires to gain a college scholarship and eventually join the NBA. It is an ambition in which he’s supported by his well-meaning, though ineffectual, dad (Perry Yung). But Boogie faces a number of difficulties, some of his own making.
Disdainful of all but one of his fellow players — the exception being his pal, Richie (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) — Boogie refuses to be a team player. At daggers drawn with his father (it’s unclear if the couple are divorced or just separated), Boogie’s domineering, cash-strapped mother (Pamelyn Chee) schemes with a professional recruiter, Melvin (Mike Moh), to divert Boogie’s career path in favor of a quicker payout.
Boogie also is distracted by his burgeoning romance with Eleanor (Taylour Paige), a classmate with whom he first carries on a debased flirtation by, among other things, ogling at and complimenting her private parts while she’s skimpily dressed for a workout. This unpromising start, however, leads to the formation of a genuine emotional bond between the two based on the varied challenges each faces.
Drawing on his own experiences, writer-director Eddie Huang, who also plays Boogie’s sympathetic uncle, Jackie, provides some insights into the athlete’s ethnic milieu. This includes the power parents are able to wield, for good or ill, over the lives of their children based on a deep-rooted cultural emphasis on respect for elders and ancestors.
Viewers also will appreciate Boogie’s battle to overcome implicit prejudice. Though only indirectly expressed, the notion that someone of his background doesn’t belong on the court is nonetheless a palpable stereotype and represents a very real barrier for him to surmount.
But Huang’s script is less laudable in its treatment of the picture’s central relationship. A bedroom scene that finds Boogie shyly avowing his status as a virgin to Eleanor (who is not one) also sees him a prey to concerns about the adequacy of his anatomy. Additionally, the screenplay romanticizes the premature physicality to which this encounter leads — shared in by teens who may both be under 18.
Similarly, Boogie’s repeated use of marijuana is treated as a routine activity.
In cinematic terms, Huang tweaks the conventions of the genre here and there. But the plot still culminates in an old-fashioned climactic showdown with Monk — played by the late rapper Bashar “Pop Smoke” Jackson — Boogie’s only worthy rival.
Visits to Shan (Huang’s mom, Jessica), a fortune teller, frame the story. Rather than a vehicle for introducing any genuinely occult element into the proceedings, however, her presence is simply a means of explaining the differing temperaments that cause the turmoil by which Boogie’s family is beset. In elucidating these problems, she’s ultimately more muse than medium.
The film contains drug use, offscreen and possibly underage premarital sexual activity, vulgar banter, at least one profanity, a couple of milder oaths as well as pervasive rough and much crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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Streetwise and sullen sports drama in which the aspirations of a New York City high school basketball star (newcomer Taylor Takahashi) to gain a college scholarship and eventually join the NBA are hindered by several factors. These include his disrespect for all but one (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) of his fellow players, his consequent refusal to be a team player, his domineering mother’s (Pamelyn Chee) schemes for a quicker payout, her enmity toward his supportive but ineffectual dad (Perry Yung) and the distraction of a burgeoning romance with a classmate (Taylour Paige). Writer-director Eddie Huang, who also plays the athlete’s sympathetic uncle, provides some insights into Chinese-American culture and his main character’s battle to overcome implicit prejudice can be applauded. But the script romanticizes the premature physicality of the central relationship, treats smoking pot as a routine activity and merely tweaks the conventions of the genre while building up to an old-fashioned climactic showdown with the protagonist’s only worthy rival (rapper Bashar “Pop Smoke” Jackson). Drug use, offscreen and possibly underage premarital sexual activity, vulgar banter, at least one profanity, a couple of milder oaths, pervasive rough and much crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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“Boogie” (Focus) — Catholic News Service classification, A-III — adults. Motion Picture Association rating, R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.