An innocuous boys’ wish-fulfillment fantasy, “Thunderstruck” is the sort of picture that would be more at home on a family-friendly cable channel. But the presence of NBA star Kevin Durant, who recently scored big in the Olympics, may create a theatrical market for the picture, especially among youngsters with dreams of basketball stardom themselves.
The story’s a simple one that recalls the 2002 Bow Wow flick, “Like Mike.” Brian Newall (Taylor Gray) is a big fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the team’s standout player Durant, but short and clumsy himself, he’s relegated to managing the Eagles, the high-school team coached by self-promoting coach Amross (James Belushi) and his lock-step assistant (Robert Belushi). Brian’s also tormented by his little sister Ashley (Hana Hayes), who posts videos of his backyard catastrophes at the basket, which are then picked up and shown on campus by team star (and all-around bully) Connor (Spencer Daniels). All this when Brian is trying to impress the pretty new girl, Isabel (Tristin Mays).
When Brian’s dad (William Ragsdale) takes him to a Thunder game to cheer the kid up, the boy’s selected to try a half-time prize shot, which he muffs badly, conking the mascot instead. Durant consoles him by giving him a signed ball, but unknowingly also his own talent. Suddenly Durant can’t nail the basket at all, sending his team down the tubes, while Brian becomes the Eagles’ sparkplug, making incredible moves and scoring forty and fifty points a game—bringing him campus adulation and Amross the dream of a state championship. Unfortunately, in the process Brian gets a swelled head, ignoring his best friend Mitch (Larramie Doc Shaw) and alienating Isabel.
Fortunately Durant’s agent Alan (Brandon T. Jackson) figures out what’s happened and desperately tries to reverse the talent switch, though he must first convince Durant he’s not just suffering a terrible slump. And, of course, Brian has to come to his senses and realize he shouldn’t profit from somebody else’s ability without working for the skill himself—or ditch his friends. One guess as to how things turn out.
“Thunderstruck” never bothers to offer even the most outrageous reason for the Durant-to-Brian transfer, and is even more ridiculous in arbitrarily establishing “rules” for its reversal. But if you’re willing to swallow the premise, the rest of the movie goes down pretty easily. Durant’s certainly no actor, but he’s an agreeable presence, and though Gray—like lots of young actors—has a tendency to mug, he’s generally a likable surrogate for the kids in the audience, and unless the effects are extraordinarily good, he even has some real court smarts. Jackson occasionally goes too far into stereotype, but he’s obviously a good light comedian, and Shaw avoids doing so as Brian’s nerdy buddy, while Mays both pretty and pleasant. Even Belushi is a bit less volcanic than usual, with some surprisingly clever lines, and has a couple of nifty turns with (his son) Robert as his enthusiastic aide. The fact that this cast—which could easily have been a disaster—stays within reasonable bounds is a tribute to director John Whitesell, who—along with cinematographer Shawn Maurer and editor Terry Lombardo—manage to give the basketball action, both of the professional and the high-school variety, some visual pizzazz, although this is obviously a pretty small-scaled production.
The Thunder franchise and Durant’s real reps should be plenty pleased with this movie, which promotes both the team and the player pretty shamelessly. (There’s an athletic shoe company that gets a big plug, too, which probably had something to do with the financing.) But boys of a certain age—and their sports-minded dads—probably won’t mind. For them, “Thunderstruck” won’t be earth-shaking, but it should prove a harmless invitation to spend a little quality time together.