When you think of sports movies, whether baseball, football, basketball, hockey or even golf, there is one word they all have in common — inspirational. Sports films deal in inspiration like a stockbroker deals in cash. A player learning a valuable lesson, a coach going through a mid-life crisis, or a team of misfits overcoming their insecurities to win the big game against the “better” athletes, it doesn’t matter; sports films make it their purpose to give those who are essentially broken a chance to prove themselves and become a winner. Unfortunately, the new sports drama Boogie plays into none of that, essentially stripping its story of anything inspirational and washing the whole thing in the sour nectar of gloom.
Alfred “Boogie” Chin (Taylor Takahashi) is a star Asian basketball player whose parents transfer him to a preparatory school so that he might shine on a team with no other stars, all to showcase his skills against another formidable player named Monk (Pop Smoke). I point out that Boogie is Asian because the movie spends a lot of time making sure we don’t forget that he’s Asian. His parents have raised him to understand his Asian heritage and make sure that his Asian identity is always the first thing that people know about him. The opportunity to play, and eventually beat Monk will hopefully win him a scholarship to a top-tier university, which will them propell the Asian into the NBA. When plenty of universities offer a walk-on spot, but no scholarship, Boogie’s Asian mother (Pamelyn Chee) and Asian father (Perry Yung) go to war with each other over how best to get their Asian son into the NBA.
I’m sorry to say, but no one in this film is at all likeable. Every character is either brash, conceited, malicious or downright mean. Correction, all characters but one — Boogie’s best friend and fellow teammate Richie (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) is the only bright spot in the film. It’s too bad he’s only there to be a wing-man for Boogie’s sexual advances toward their classmate, Eleanor (Taylour Paige), and offer up the speeches that are meant to inspire Boogie to be a better man. The words, though, always seem to simply go in one ear and out the other as Boogie never changes. His conceit runs rampant throughout the movie, even during the final game when all mandatory tropes are suddenly thrown into the pot to stir up some favor in the audience.
The toxic relationship between Boogie’s mother and father doesn’t help. Its only purpose seems to be to inform the audience of what Boogie’s own relationship will become with Eleanor, who spends the first act of the film berating and despising Boogie because of his constant stalker-gazing and awkward sexualization of her figure only to start dating him at the turn of a dime as if the first act never happened. I couldn’t see how this relationship would last one week, much less across continents, as neither character gives the other any reason to change their better-than-though personas. Maybe that’s the point. Boogie grew up surrounded by a toxic relationship; maybe that’s all the world has in store for him.
It turns out that toxicity is all this movie has going for it. Breaking away from a standard storytelling device can be a breath of fresh air when done honestly and with purpose. From where I’m sitting, I didn’t see any purpose for straying away from the tried-and-true formula that makes sports films what they are. This is especially noticeable in the final act when we finally get to see Boogie face off against his imagined nemesis. (Imagined because we never truly get to see the reason either Boogie or Monk would be at odds with one another except for their own bloated egos.) Writer/director Eddie Huang had the perfect opportunity to jump into a strong, exciting and inspired-filled finale, turning all of what’s come before on its head and give Boogie everything he wants. Instead, he tears that opportunity to shreds and then throws us a bone like we’re supposed to care one iota for what happens next. The shift is too abrupt and doesn’t make much sense for why it’s done the way it’s done.
All of this stems mostly from the heavy-handed way Huang pushes the culture’s ideology, which is wrapped around the film like a python. There’s nothing wrong whatsoever in exploring and paying respect to someone’s culture, and there are some scenes in this movie that do so quite nicely. However, because of the sheer nastiness that overwhelms the core of the film, most of this ideological pandering tends to feel rotted out and only there to spread propaganda instead of showcasing the heart of what makes the culture breathe.
Boogie tries very hard to connect us with its title character, his culture and everyone around him by ham-handedly relating them all with literature, but even that falls flat. The good news is, the basketball sequences (as little as there are) are done well, and as I mentioned before, Richie is a fun character that I wish would’ve been given more to do. Outside of these very minor aspects, though, Boogie just can’t seem to find any strength within the sport, the culture or in family to warrant any type of inspiration.
My Grade: C-
There are some very good sequences in Hulu’s new time-loop action film, Boss Level, but because the filmmakers waste the casting of both Mel Gibson and Michelle Yeoh, skimp on the special effects budget, and pass over several missed opportunities, we’re left with a film with so much potential just waiting to get to the next level. Listen to the full (Spoiler) Review of Boss Level on Ramblin’ Reviews. B+
Disney continues its animation resurgence with Raya and the Last Dragon, a terrific film with a strong voice cast, visually stunning set pieces, some nicely choreographed battle sequences, and a story that captures your imagination while doing what Boogie couldn’t — deliver inspiration with a resilient message of hope and trust. A
If you cobbled together bits and pieces from films such as Over the Hedge, Harry and the Hendersons, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and The Incredibles and then threw a heavy level of environmentalism into the mix you’d get Bigfoot Family, a kids film that uses this processing of recycling, I guess, to try and prove its overbearing message. B-
Next week, new movies include Cherry (AppleTV+) and Yes Day (Netflix). If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.