ST. LOUIS — "Boogie," the new film from Eddie Huang, has good intentions and means well. The story of an Asian-American basketball player struggling with mentality issues on his way to the NBA was a wise release for March Madness. But it painfully has nothing new to say and doesn't have the acting, specifically the lead role, to make it stand up in the end.
Taylor Takahashi makes his screen debut as the title character, a talented baller who has seen his entire life and potential career dictated by his ex-con father (Perry Yung) and diligent mother (Pamelyn Chee), while battling all the desires and aspirations that a teenager normally carries. There's also a love interest (Taylour Paige), a city rival to defeat (the late Pop Smoke), and old school head coach (Domenick Lombardozzi) to impress. All of it seems tailor-made to create cinematic bliss, but the script and cast let it all go.
Takahashi can't hold the screen well enough, showing some raw emotion in scenes but not much else. He has about three expressions, and doesn't make the audience cheer for him due to his immaturity on the court. The overbearing mother and father conflict does little to push things into fresh territory, and you are left waiting for the big game and the inevitable "learning moment" for "Boogie." Lombardozzi convinces easily, but he only has a small, ineffective role. The movie could have used some of his real-life personality, because Huang's (who has a small funny part in the film as a driver with IBS) film feels machine-like for most of its 89 minute run time.
That short running time was one of the highlights I picked up heading into the film, impressed by the idea of a sports redemption film could clock in so tight. Now, I understand why. There's nothing to sell here, unless you haven't seen a basketball movie before. Gavin O'Connor's 2020 critical darling, "The Way Back," offered something more than just inner city kids trying to come together as a team and win the big game. Huang's script doesn't push or punch hard enough to make the cotton candy go down easier. While there were small moments of racial injustice and family hierarchy, none of it is confidently explored here. It's recycled goods from better movies with an Asian focus that never gets the introspection it deserved. This is a rare case where I will say a movie needed to be a little longer to resonate in its genre.
Bottom Line: "Boogie" isn't a bad movie; it's just not a good one. Save it for home viewing if all the other sports films have been checked off.