The NBA’s own 'Freaky Friday'
By Sean O’Connell
Friday, August 24, 2012
Championship rings and Olympic gold medals are nice, but real NBA superstars know they’ve arrived once they have a feature film to call their own. Michael Jordan rocked “Space Jam.” Shaquille O’Neal carried the respectable “Blue Chips” (and the forgettable “Kazaam”). Even onetime Washington Bullets center Gheorghe Muresan co-starred alongside the pint-size Billy Crystal for the 1998 comedy “My Giant.”
Joining their ranks is Oklahoma City Thunder all-star and recent gold medalist Kevin Durant, playing himself in the Warner Bros.-distributed and NBA-approved family comedy “Thunderstruck.” And while the 23-year-old Durant isn’t as naturally charismatic or camera-friendly as Jordan or O’Neal, his debut film sells itself on durable messages about strong work ethic, the importance of community relations and playing to one’s individual potential.
“Thunderstruck” could best be described as the NBA “Freaky Friday.”
Our hero isn’t Durant but rather Brian (Taylor Gray), a 16-year-old who idolizes the Thunder but is barely talented enough to serve as the towel boy on his high school basketball squad. One evening, while attending a Thunder game with his dad, Brian is selected to shoot a half-court shot at halftime, potentially winning $20,000. He misses -- badly -- but is consoled by Durant, who autographs a ball and hands it off to Brian, his biggest fan.
Cue the body-swapping plot twist. By signing the ball, Durant magically transforms his basketball abilities to Brian, who suddenly plays like Magic Johnson in his prime. Dunks? No problem. Shoot the three? Nothing but net. Brian’s overnight transformation catches the eye of beleaguered Coach Amross (Jim Belushi), jealous varsity standout Connor (Spencer Daniels) and beautiful transfer student Jessica Isabel (Tristin Mays, who is a dead ringer for a young Jessica Alba).
Across town, Durant suddenly can’t hit a shot to save his life, which has his agent (Brandon T. Jackson) very concerned. TNT basketball analysts (and NBA guest stars) O’Neal, Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley poke fun at the ice-cold shooter. Durant’s own mom stops by Thunder practice with homemade soup and words of advice. Can Brian figure out how to transfer Durant’s basketball talents back to the superstar before the Thunder miss the playoffs? More importantly, will Brian want to part with his new gifts, now that they’ve helped make him Big Man on Campus?
Would “Thunderstruck” merit a theatrical release without Durant’s presence? Probably not. It’s not meant as an insult to say that John Whitesell’s earnest but predictable comedy is Disney Channel- or Nickelodeon-worthy. “Thunderstruck” is an after-school special that lucked into a couple of NBA all-stars for its ensemble. The language is a little coarse for a family film. And, yes, sometimes it feels like a Durant highlight reel -- or an OKC Thunder infomercial -- stretched to feature length, with the occasional life lesson tossed in to balance the film’s obvious commercial angle. (Durant’s newest sneakers, the KD4, are advertised not once, but twice during “Thunderstruck,” a particularly crass move by a film that’s already playing to the NBA star’s fan base.)
Still, those teachable moments make “Thunderstruck” a worthy diversion for parents and kids already cheering for Durant, the NBA or sports-themed entertainment. Durant’s personal motto, which is repeated often, is “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” And that slogan acts as the backbone of the film, educating young audience members about the importance of practice.
Fans seeking a basketball fix between the recently departed Olympic Games and the start of the NBA season in October could do much worse.
Contains mild language and rude humor.