Written and directed by Robert Bell III, a look at youth basketball in the inner city, through the lens of a neglected teen attempting to make a prestigious travel team. Starring: Behzad Dabu, Stephan DeKemper, Kevin J. Harris, Fatima Ming, Nysem Spurell and Na’eem Bond.
An underdog story in the world of sports is quite possibly one of cinema’s most classic combinations from Rocky to Eddie the Eagle, it’s human nature to root for a person with talent and determination, especially when it seems like everything is against them. When the film begins, it follows a very familiar style with its strong narration over a silent following of its lead character. The colour scheme gives it almost a dreamlike quality, at moments pushing it towards more of a flashback than prologue. It can become slightly too dark during those initial scenes, taking away from the overall visual, it’s clear the intention was to provide a more grim, bleak world that Hoop lives in and it does work up right until that extent where it slips into darkness. A similar issue could be said of the early narration, it’s a classic and effective style but at a certain point, it leans a little too heavily on sympathy, which wasn’t needed because Hoop’s lack of support and familial love, says plenty on its own. The prologue does set the scene well, telling of a young child who, even at only seven years old, harrowingly understands that the life he has is not enough, and that basketball is one of his few roads to a better life.
The film then jarringly jumps forward almost a decade to Hoop at 16, he’s fighting for the last spot on the next rung of the ladder towards his basketball career. Despite that very quick transition, things then slow down quite significantly and shots begin to linger a little too long and it seems to become hesitant to move forward. It also struggles with adding a strange number of clips and audio relating to what looks like World War II, it was an usual choice as the parallel isn’t strong enough between them and Hoop’s situation, making it feel slightly inappropriate and taking away from the story rather than adding.
Unfortunately, the struggle then continues as the story becomes much more simple, it’s a case of Hoop pushing himself and being determined to get ahead, while trying to impress a hard ass coach who constantly is berating him and having him run punishing drills. It’s a shame that it doesn’t go much further than that, it would have been very interesting to explore more of Hoop’s internal struggle rather than simply the brutal try-outs. That initial message of trying to build a better life for himself, seems to get slightly lost amongst the basketball visuals and becomes more about working hard and knowing your limits. While it’s still a worthwhile story to tell, it mostly consists of Hoop running in circles for extended periods of time and feels like it could have been better used, other than that there’s a fair amount of Hoop staring longingly and being stoic.
There are moments where the story tries to expand, but the largest of this is a scene with his mother, played by Ming who looks much too young for the role, to the point where they look more like a couple than mother and son, which is a distraction. The dialogue of this moment is also slightly confusing, it goes back and forth between her being blunt and apathetic with him, to sounding as though she’s simply trying to protect him from hurting himself, which feels conflicting given his neglected upbringing. However, the moments with his half-brother Dean, are perhaps the strongest of the film, holding the most emotion and being genuinely touching.
Overall, the film is exploring a story worthy of telling, of struggling to succeed and trying to better yourself and work towards a successful future, but it doesn’t come through strongly enough, it knows what it wants to say but can’t quite get it across. It has great potential but it took a wrong road and didn’t focus on the stronger elements of the story, like exploring more of Hoop’s love of basketball or more of what his life is like at age 16 outside of the trials. Hoop has the bones of a good story and it’s a shame it couldn’t live up to that potential.