Streetball is apparently an opportunity for urban kids to show off their moves and their attitude in pick-up basketball games in playgrounds and local gyms, and “Crossover,” titled after one of those moves, is the cinematic equivalent: a chance for mostly-unknown, and definitely struggling, actors and filmmakers to strut their stuff and prove what they can do. Unfortunately, the movie is so melodramatically absurd and technically inept that it’s unlikely to do anybody’s resume any favors.
Basically it’s an inspirational inner-city yarn in which the lesson is to value education over dreams of sports stardom and the big bucks it has to offer. That’s an admirable message, to be sure; a pity it’s delivered in so ham-fisted a fashion. The kids involved are Tech (Anthony Mackie) and Cruise (Wesley Jonathan), buddies who work together in a mall sports gear shop and dribble together. Cruise is the straight-arrow, ambitious type; recently graduated from a Detroit high school, he’s got a scholarship to attend college in L.A. Tech, who spent some time in the joint (for a crime he didn’t commit, we eventually learn), is finishing his GED. He’s also big on streetball, with his team Enemy of the State going up against the local champs headed by arrogant Jewelz (Philip Champion) and joining forces with neighborhood doofus Up (Little JJ) to hustle guys at nearby playgrounds for cash when he needs it.
Lurking on the sidelines is ultra-slick Vaughn (Wayne Brody), a former sports agent who sees Cruise as a potential meal ticket and tries to get him to go into the NBA draft, even threatening to ruin his college hopes by revealing that the kid accepted money for playing on Tech’s streetball team; and two dippy local girls who link up with our heroes: Eboni (Alecia Fears), who takes up with Tech despite his moodiness and short temper, and Vanessa (Eva Pigford), a former girlfriend of Jewelz, who comes on to Cruise so strong that he eventually proposes to her when he discovers she’s pregnant.
All this melodramatic hubbub is played like a mishandled afterschool special. (How much more could one telegraph a tragic turn than by showing Cruise speeding around the Motor City streets on a cute little yellow motorcycle given him by his adoring grandmother?) The acting is atrocious, especially by Jonathan and Pigford, both of whom exhibit a level of finesse to be expected of a hapless senior recruited to play a part in his high-school drama club show. Fears isn’t far behind them, and Little JJ seems to have been taking lessons from Bow Wow as the comic-relief sidekick. But even Mackie, who’s a pretty accomplished actor, is off his stride here (as is that smoothie Brady), and the fault seems to lie squarely at the feet of writer-director Whitmore, who’s penned some ludicrously banal dialogue and then instructed his cast to play it either lackadaisically (Jonathan) or with overbearing intensity (Mackie, as in a terrible scene in which he explodes during a commercial shoot and then takes out his drunken anger on Eboni). He doesn’t even manage to give the basketball scenes any special juice, though they’re certainly easier to watch than the dramatic ones. Technically “Crossover” is completely mediocre, with washed-out photography by Christian Sebaldt and an insistent but flat score by Mathias Weber. But the weakest behind-the-camera contribution comes from editors Stuart and Anthony Adler; when (as up front) they try for some energetic montages, they prove utterly unable to carry them off, and elsewhere they fail to give any pace or rhythm to scenes, letting them to unspool jerkily and run on too long.
So anyone attracted to “Crossfire” by its streetball emphasis (which is what one sees in the trailer) is going to be very disappointed. The court scenes are the best part of the movie, but there are surprisingly few of them, and even the ones that are here don’t have the verve and pizzazz one might expect. They play second fiddle to a well-intentioned but dull plot about recognizing what’s really important in life, setting aside empty daydreams and straightening up your act before it’s too late. That’s a laudable message to give to today’s youth, but it would have to be packaged much more skillfully to draw them in rather than bore them. By the time the movie ends with yet another cliche–the rundown on what happens to all the major characters after the action ends–you’ll have long ceased to care.