Gunnin' for That #1 Spot

Posted: June 27, 2008

Directed by Adam Yauch. With Michael Beasley, Tyreke Evans, Bobbito Garcia and Jerryd Bayless. Distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories. 1 hour, 30 mins. PG-13 (profanity). Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse.

A basketball movie directed by a Beastie Boy, Gunnin' for That #1 Spot follows eight high school phenoms selected for the Elite 24 all-star game held at Rucker Park, the Harlem hoops mecca, in September 2006.

For roundball junkies and hip-hop heads, it's an enticing combination. The soundtrack uses Afrika Bambaataa, Public Enemy and Jay-Z to punctuate no-look passes and killer crossovers. The story, helmed by Adam Yauch, the rapper known as MCA whose previous feature was the Beastie Boys' 2006 concert film Awesome: I . . . Shot That!, focuses on ballers, including Chester, Pa., point guard Tyreke Evans, of whom greatness is expected.

Among them are several players known to college hoops fans, including Michael Beasley, and Kevin Love, nephew of Beach Boy Mike Love. Both Beasley, who everyone in Gunnin' agrees is "a beast," and Love played one year of college ball after their Rucker adventure, and were expected to be selected as lottery picks in last night's NBA draft.

Each teenager shares the burden of enormous expectations, regardless of race or economic status. Evans doesn't shine at Rucker, but comes off sensitive in an interview on a hardscrabble court in Chester. His older brother, Eric "Pooh" Evans, observes: "Temptation is heavy around here."

Yauch examines the challenge of living normal lives while under pressure to deliver for family and community, and an overzealous scouting industry that identifies NBA prospects as early as middle school.

Gunnin' recalls the 1994 doc Hoop Dreams, which told two Chicago players' tales in heart-rending depth, but it moves too fast to dig that deep. Yauch relies on his fish-eye lens too much, and the game itself is anticlimactic. But as sports movies go, Gunnin' never feels the slightest bit hokey, and serves up SportsCenter-worthy clips in high style, along with the unmistakable feel of real life. - Dan DeLuca

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