It would be easy to kick Crossover square in the basketball. It's an awkward little movie, meandering from scene to scene with complete disconnect. Then there's Wayne Brady as the film's villain. Wayne Brady, even at his most intimidating, is about as threatening as a basket full of kittens. Yep, there are a million different ways to rip this one, but I'm not going to do it. There's something lovable about Crossover, it's kind of like a three-legged dog. It's wobbly and unsure of itself, but damn if it isn't kind of cute in a dumb-ass dog-eared way.
The movie's advertising campaign wraps itself in the mantle of underground basketball tournaments, but basketball is really just a punctuation mark at the beginning and end. In between it's the story of two friends facing the world after high school and trying to figure out their next move. Noah Cruise (Wesley Jonathan) has a basketball scholarship and offers to go pro, but he's only interested in getting an education. Tech (Anthony Mackie) has far fewer opportunities. He's poor, from the wrong side of the tracks, and doesn't have Cruise's talent for basketball or his Grandma's money. He's on the verge of getting his GED, but what happens after that?
What's great about the movie is the way it stays away from the usual urban stereotypes so thick in any other film about young men from bad neighborhoods. There's not a rapper or a gangbanger in sight. Instead, we're given realistic, positive role models. There's no posing or attitude. Just real, young-adults talking the way kids talk and trying to make their way through life. No liquor store robberies or drive-by shootings. Just because you're poor and black doesn't mean you have to be a thug, and it's refreshing to see at least one movie willing explore that. Cruise and Tech have all the problems of poverty; this isn't an unrealistic portrayal, just a fair one, a film that's not obsessed with glorifying ghetto trash.
Crossover's plot and structural problems are balanced by its education message and some truly great performances from Wesley Jonathan and Anthony Mackie. They play their characters utterly real, they feel authentic and so it's easy to buy into them, even when the plot they're wandering around in doesn't fire on all cylinders. But their characters make sense and that's what carries it.
Wayne Brady on the other hand, was a mistake. The guy's acting is about as good as his comedy, which is to say not at all. He plays a shady basketball promoter, and though he's supposed to be calculating and conniving, most of the time he looks like he wants to break into song. Sorry Wayne, say goodbye to your career as a serious actor and content yourself with taking money from middle-aged soccer moms.
Director/writer Preston A. Whitmore II had a good idea when he set out to make Crossover: A realistic movie about urban youths determined to make something out of themselves through education rather than gangbanging. Maybe he should have let someone else make it. His direction is unsteady and amateurish, his script is scattered and sometimes a little heavy handed. If he hadn't found two gems in Mackie and Jonathan the movie would have been a mess. Sure the showy street ball is a lot of fun, but there isn't much of it and the rest of the drama is unbelievably clumsy. Crossover deserves praise for using positive stereotypes and casting some great acting talent, but that's not enough to recommend it, merely enough to save it from the garbage bin.
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