by Kilian Melloy
Friday Sep 1, 2006
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Little JJ costars as a peppy young fella called Up
Little JJ costars as a peppy young fella called Up  (Source:Sony Pictures Releasing)

Preston A. Whitmore II’s sleekly shot movie about flashy streetball and Detroit street boys mixes a grab-bag’s worth of stock characters with knowing, funny details, and the energy of the finished product almost makes you want to forgive the mediocre script.

The story is pure Hallmark Channel. A former sports agent named Vaughn (Wayne Brady) runs an underground sports events called "streetball," which is basketball with stripped-down rules and stepped-up plays. Vaughn pays his players according to performance; the winning team gets $2,000 each, while the losers must make do with a paltry one grand apiece. Of course, there’s more at stake than money: pride and bragging rights count for at least as much as the hard, cold cash.

The two teams in the movie are called, with a wink and flourish, Platinum and Enemy of the State, and at first blush it seems that the story is destined to be all about the rivalry of the teams’ leaders, a couple of hot-heads named Jewelz (Philip Champion) and Tech (Anthony Mackie). True to their names, Jewelz is all about flash and dazzle, but Tech is the better strategist and the more skillful player... none of which helps him out when Jewlez and crew whup his team on the court. To beef up his team’s skills, Tech invites his best friend Cruise (Wesley Jonathan) to play for Enemy of the State, even though Cruise has accepted a college sports scholarship and playing for money will make him ineligible to collect. This glaring fact, carefully enunciated early on, is bound to circle back and bite, and indeed it does: Vaughn is determined to see Cruz give up on his dream of college and med school and play for him on a multi-city tour, and the question of whether Vaughn wants Cruise hard enough to sabotage his academic future is given just enough loft that it becomes one of the film’s few sustained (and sustaining) plot threads.

Other story elements come and go: Vaughn’s hot ex Nikki (Kristen Wilson) comes to town just long enough to tempt him to move back to Los Angeles; Cruz and Tech just happen to be headed L.A.-wards themselves, with instant girlfriends in tow (just add water from an impromptu pool party, and presto! Crazy love!); Tech somehow finds his way into a commercial while his girl Eboni (Alicia Fears) makes contacts in the makeup trade; Vanessa (Eva Pigford), Cruise’s girlfriend, who used to be with Jewelz, announces that she’s pregnant. Most of these developments simply happen, with little development or explanation, and the one or two plot points that don’t fall by the wayside as Tech and his wisecracking, sunny sidekick Up (Little JJ) make their pin money by hustling the unwary at ball courts around the city are kept in play for the sole purpose of allowing them to roar in at the film’s turning point with maximum ham-handedness.

Fortunately, the film has two big saving graces. As mentioned, the production is pure whiz-bang: except for the occasional poor mama’s candle-lit kitchen (her no-good boyfriend forgot to pay the light bill before he went and robbed a liquor store), Crossover is redolent with slick, shiny, colorful surfaces and hopped-up editing that gets jubilantly jiggy with slo-mo, fast-mo, freeze-frame, and a host of other editing tricks. The camera angles are sometimes ostentatious (lots of overhead shots), but at least they keep the film from feeling earthbound despite the fact that the quick cuts are mostly done from a static lens - not much dollying or crane work going on here.

The other plus is the energy that the cast bring to the project. There’s no major acting talent on display, but there is a sense of play that fits nicely with all the basketball balletry. So what if the bad guys are broadly bad and the good guys seem too upbeat to be real? The director wants to provide pop to go with the audience’s popocorn, and he does a credible job of it.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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