'Crossover': A Dribble Of Cliches

At least he can hold on to the ball. Above and left, Anthony Mackie stars as bad boy baller Tech in
At least he can hold on to the ball. Above and left, Anthony Mackie stars as bad boy baller Tech in "Crossover." (Photos By Kim Simms -- Tristar)
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 1, 2006

Just a few more tweaks and "Crossover" could have been something special -- a truly terrible movie to savor for the ages. But nooo, this street ball movie -- about two Detroit friends who live for slam-dunks, each other and getting an education -- has to settle for middle-of-the-road badness.

Presumably intended for moviegoers who want to enjoy the smash-mouth, grandstanding joys of this game (now popularized on ESPN), "Crossover" is surprisingly short on court action. They'll see some aerial moves and trickery from real street ball player Philip "Hot Sauce" Champion, but essentially, there's one game at the beginning, one at the end and a whole lot of groan-inducing downtime in between.

Welcome to the Motor City, where Tech (Anthony Mackie) and best pal Noah Cruise (Wesley Jonathan) square up for some high-stakes, rough-and-tough street basketball against Platinum, a team of trash-talking hot dogs. This is the kind of game where fouls are rarely called and the winners get two grand apiece, slipped into their palms by league organizer and wheeler-dealer Vaughn (Wayne Brady). The losers pocket one grand each.

When their team, Enemy of the State, loses the game to Platinum, Tech's upset because he couldn't wipe the smile off the face of arch-rival Platinum player Jewelz (Champion). And Cruise, on track for a basketball scholarship at UCLA, finds himself in potential trouble as a "paid professional." Vaughn, who fancies himself an agent, threatens to report Cruise to the NCAA unless the kid retains him as an agent and starts a lucrative career in the pro leagues.

Cruise is determined to use his scholarship for a pre-med education, not a basketball career. Of course, this desire to become a doctor would be commendable if Cruise -- as conceived by writer-director Preston A. Whitmore II -- didn't come across as a one-dimensional role model for an After School Special.

As the "bad boy" of the pair, Tech isn't much more believable. Even though he has a tendency to slug first and seek positive conflict resolution later, he's working hard to get his high school equivalency diploma. He never fails to buy milk and groceries for his "moms," or pay her electricity bills with that street ball money. And the only reason Tech did time was to take the rap for Cruise's assault-and-battery charge -- so his friend wouldn't lose that scholarship. Mackie, best known for "She Hate Me" and "Million Dollar Baby," is due some serious street cred for taking such an edgy role.

But Tech and Cruise are characters of Shakespearean heft compared with Vanessa (Eva Pigford, winner of "America's Next Top Model"), a gold-digging hussy who works in a nail salon and smells opportunity when she meets golden boy Cruise. In a matter of minutes, she has stolen his heart, informed Cruise that he's the father of her coming baby and secured a diamond ring (donated by Cruise's grandmother). Let the hissing begin. She's accompanied everywhere by her True-Hearted Friend, Eboni (Alicia Jai Fears), who falls in love with Tech for who he really is -- whatever that might be -- and follows him all the way to the predictable rematch between Enemy of the State and Platinum.

Filmmaker Whitmore, who also made "Doing Hard Time" and "The Walking Dead," slices and dices "Crossover" into frenetically edited montages with de rigueur hip-hop. And he ensures that all "sad" or "sincere" moments are flooded with lachrymose saxophone riffs. His dialogue is especially memorable, but not in the way he intended: Tech, trying to warn Cruise about his scheming fiancee, declares: "Vanessa's from the D. She was born with larceny in her heart." But what's most disappointing about Whitmore's film is its lack of commitment to sublime awfulness, an ineffable quality that could have made "Crossover" a contender for those end-of-the-year 10-worst lists. It's simply too dull and meandering to merit impassioned disdain. It just sits there, warming the bench and only dreaming of the dubious big time. Even as a howler of a movie, it doesn't have game.

Crossover (95 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexual content and some profanity.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company