He Got Game

With the ponderous He Got Game, Spike Lee really blows it. NBA star and acting novice Ray Allen plays the top high-school basketball prospect in America. With every college in the country dying to recruit him, his convict father (Denzel Washington) is temporarily released from prison in an attempt to convince him to attend the governor's favorite school. It's a premise with plenty of potential: Sports, family, and religion—Allen's character is named Jesus, and though much is made of this fact, it's difficult to see why—are all inexhaustible subjects, and you'd think Lee would be eager to take them on. This is the first film he's written from scratch since 1994's Crooklyn, and as messy as Crooklyn was at times, the inadequacies of He Got Game are enough to evoke nostalgia for its heartfelt honesty and sense of family. There's not a relationship in He Got Game that feels right, especially the one between Washington and Allen, and if that doesn't work, neither does the film. It doesn't work, in large part because neither is allowed to develop into a character: Even Washington can't squeeze anything from what he's been given. He Got Game makes a few feints in the direction of religious allegory, but it's ultimately just a heavy-handed morality tale, complete with cartoonish stereotypes (Allen's money-hungry uncle) and streetwise, been-there, done-that types who pop up to deliver lectures. Then there's the issue of women: In the world of He Got Game, women are either victims (Allen's sainted mother and passive aunt) or whores (everybody else). Sure, in a seemingly superfluous role, Milla Jovovich badly plays a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold who reforms her scandalous ways. But every other woman just wants a piece of Allen, whether they're his girlfriend (who sleeps with a sports agent) or a parade of white women who attempt to lure him to a college apparently populated entirely by Playboy models. This hurts the film, but not nearly as much as its failure to do anything but plod along with scenes that fail to connect.

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