“Full-Court Miracle,” a Disney film about the little yeshiva basketball team that could, is so cheesy that kosher-conscious viewers ought not to watch it while eating meat.
It features long stretches of acting and dialogue only slightly less wooden than the Boston Garden’s famed parquet floor. And it boasts the most embarrassing sequence of young men dancing since a treacherously skipping record a decade ago exposed Milli Vanilli as little more than a glorified karaoke act.
Still, I sort of liked it.
The made-for-TV movie starts, as do so many sports movies about kids, featuring “game” action of the worst youth basketball team ever. In this case, the hapless hoopsters are the Lions of the Philadelphia Hebrew Academy, a grossly incompetent squad of kippah-wearing teenagers who seem to have trouble remembering that you can’t kick the ball.
As the school’s Rabbi Lewis teaches his class about the miracle of Chanukah (which you would think yeshiva boys would know by eighth grade), the team’s undersized point guard, Alex Schlotsky, decides that what his squad needs is a leader like Judah Maccabee.
He finds his Judah — like the Chris Farley “Saturday Night Live” character of yore — living in a van, down by the river.
Schlotsky’s Judah is 6-foot-5, black, former pro basketball star Lamont Carr, who — after multiple knee surgeries and a spell of assorted bad luck — spends his days shooting hoops at the yeshiva boys’ favorite park and snoozing in his gas-guzzling abode.
If this were real life, one would hope a boy as smart as Schlotsky (Alex Linz) would know better than to walk up to a huge, hostile stranger and practically hop into his grungy van. But, since it’s a movie, “Schlotz” hires Carr to coach his teammates for 40 bucks a session.
Any half-bright viewer can connect the dots from there. The team gets better, people get nervous about the kids spending all this time with a complete stranger who lives in a van, the kindly school rabbi hires Carr as a part-time coach — until he gets his call from the Philadelphia 76ers. He joins the Sixers, the team plays on without him, he comes back and during the big game, a Chanukah-like miracle occurs vis-à-vis the amount of oil in the school’s reserve generator. Simple.
The good guys win, a scoreboard explodes a la “The Natural” and everyone’s happy.
The groaner elements in this film are numerous, as you would expect of a movie that contains the line, “I feel like a gefilte fish out of water!” A few are:
• Richard T. Jones, who portrays Carr, drifts through this film as if he’s scored some of Rush Limbaugh’s OxyContin. At times, Carr has to be surly, wistful, fatherly, angry and joyous, but Jones seems to play everything straight down the middle, as “kinda bored.” The actor is tall, well built, strikingly handsome and could easily pass as a professional athlete, but I only hope he applied sufficient postage to this performance when he mailed it in.
• The boys live in some sort of TV fantasy world, where no one hangs out with an older kid who can drive, and instead, large groups of kids ride around on nice dirt bikes — and everyone wears a helmet. Philadelphia looks suspiciously like Toronto, and a guest appearance by Toronto Raptors baller Jerome Williams — in his Toronto jersey — confirms that hunch.
• While largely avoiding generalizations about blacks or Jews, the film is stocked with silly, one-dimensional adult characters. These include the wise but quirky rabbi; the nosy, disciplinarian teacher (who, predictably, is doused with massive amounts of putrid water in a slapstick sequence), and Schlotsky’s physician mother, who pushes her Doogie Howser-aged son toward the medical profession with single-minded fervency.
Still, as The Who said, “The kids are all right.” The young actors in “Full-Court Miracle” save the movie with their humorous, realistic, jokey and insult-ridden give-and-take. While their dialogue doesn’t sound like things 13-year-old boys would say to one another, they deliver their lines in a snappy and realistic manner.
On the negative side, however, the film is peppered with more than a few incredibly disjointing voice-overs during group scenes with the young actors. After a few teenage voices shout out things like “C’mon coach!” a strange, low voice that sounds a bit like Stephen Hawking’s electronic speaking box adds its two cents. That’s just strange.
This film is, like so many Disney productions, sickly sweet and too wholesome for its own good. A story more closely following the exploits of the real Lamont Carr — who, in 1976, became the first black basketball player to graduate from the University of Virginia and actually did turn his life around in the mid-’90s when he began coaching a Boca Raton, Fla., Jewish day school basketball team — would have been a far more powerful subject. It would also have provided a meaty role for a young black actor.
Denzel, are you listening?
“Full-Court Miracle” premieres at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21 on the Disney Channel.