I watched Spike Lee’s 1998 drama (??) He Got Game starring Denzel Washington and Miami Heat guard Ray Allen for the first time Tuesday night. Seriously. I was scanning through my guide and saw that it was scheduled to air on BET so I flipped accordingly. To my dismay, while He Got Game was listed, some sort of comedy that I knew couldn’t be He Got Game was airing and I was left with disappointment.
I didn’t have anything better to do and decided it was a shame that I had never seen the movie in question so I took to Youtube to find a copy. Luckily, someone had uploaded a full length version. So I sat and watched the full two hours on my laptop.
For some reason, I always assumed He Got Game was recognized as a good movie. I’m not sure why. Maybe because it was a well-known name in our basketball gestalt. Maybe because of Spike Lee. I don’t know. But I apparently thought it would be good enough to watch on a 13 inch Macbook.
IMDB.com has it listed as a 6.8 which I think is very generous. I’m not going to say it was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen or anything outrageous like that because it would be unfair to rank anything in that sort of rarefied air alongside Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun – Li. But it was pretty bad.
I think what made He Got Game so bad is that in premise, it has/had so much promise. I’m not going to act like I can empathize with, or that I’m familiar with, the struggles of black youth growing up in the projects but the protagonist’s dilemma is an obvious reality: the peer pressures athletes face when coming upon fame and money. The problem with the movie was that while the premise was great, the execution left so, so much to desire.
The film essentially boiled down to various characters approaching Allen (the now iconic Jesus Shuttlesworth) for various monetary favors with his routine response being a dismayed, “not again. You too?” sometimes almost in a light-hearted manner. This could have been executed much more subtly and held a far more powerful effect. The inner conflict was not properly conveyed.
Speaking of light-heartedness, the bit where it reveals Shuttlesworth’s hatred for his name Jesus due to his mother’s histrionics when summoning him for supper was similarly disappointing. I hate comedy in my dramas. Besides, ‘Jesus Shuttlesworth’ is a damn cool name. Why even put a light backdrop around that?
The most unbelievable aspect of the film though was Denzel’s raison d’etre which essentially boiled down to, “everyone else is out to use you son, you have to do what’s best for you….by the way, if you go to Big State I can get out of jail early for murdering your mother.” The entire time I sat there almost expecting that something more conceivable would be woven in–perhaps Big State somehow being better for Allen or Washington’s character not caring about the parole and steering Allen elsewhere–but alas, nothing…
More implausibility: the part where the sports agent says to Shuttlesworth, while attempting to convince him to declare for the NBA Draft, “I have the names of several contenders who want you.”……because we all know contenders have the capability to, and regularly vault to the top of the draft board..
Maybe the most disappointing aspect of the film (which is pretty hard to say) was that the in-game action scenes were so poor and lacking. I came in expecting at least something entertaining towards that end (see: Above the Rim) and got nothing. Even the one-on-one scene between Washington and Allen, the supposed ‘climax’ of the film might have been made more dramatic. (Having said that, it was interesting to note the older Jake Shuttlesworth’s fundamental approach off the dribble, attacking with his body protecting the ball side to side, rather than using quickness but exposing the rock like today’s younger generation…)
I suspect I’m one of the few hoops fans alive who had yet to have seen He Got Game. If you haven’t yet, save your time.