Which, as luck would have it, you won't be needing to follow the off-court action. It's a tale of two buddies in the Detroit 'hood, Cruise (Wesley Johnson), who has a scholarship to play basketball at California University of Los Angeles (you heard me), and Tech (Anthony Mackie), who not long ago got out of the joint, where he did eight months for punching out a rich kid.They work at a shoe store in the mall, but Tech gets his folding money from playing organized street ball: games put on by impresario Vaughn (Wayne Brady) in some sort of elaborate civic palace. Huge sums are bet on the games - even cops get in on the action - which feature a DJ and cheerleaders but, oddly, only 50 or so spectators. Don't ask.
This game is a little different, not only from the one envisioned by Dr. Naismith, but also from the much looser version as it is played in today's NBA. Showboating is preferred, a traveling violation kicks in only after about five steps, and palming is encouraged. (OK, so it's not that different from the NBA.) Tech's team has a rivalry going with Jewelz (Philip Champion), so Tech calls in Cruise as a ringer, which endangers his scholarship at California University of Los Angeles even though Cruise didn't take any dough.
Right down the mall, buffing away at the nail salon, are Eboni (Alicia Fears) and Vanessa (Eva Pigford), who hook up with Cruise and Tech, respectively. Now, Cruise was going to take Tech with him as his guest to the orientation at California University of Los Angeles, but after one evening with Eboni, it's sorry, pardner. So Tech has to come up with the scratch, and he'd better, since he's already promised Vanessa, and the only way he can swing that is to do some street-ball hustling with his meek-looking but slick-moving neighbor, Up (Lil' JJ).
Out in Los Angeles, home of California University, Tech gets a gig leaping through the air and ramming basketballs through the rim for a commercial. Meantime, Vaughn urges Cruise to give college and medical school a pass and join the NBA. Apparently, it's an option, like taking Chem 1A MWF 11-12 instead of TTH 10-11:30.
"Crossover" is pointless and silly right through the Big Rematch and the after-school-special message, all of which would be almost forgivable if the basketball were any good. But director Preston A. Whitmore II has no feel for the game; the geometry of movement is absent - the action is shot from about hip level; has he never heard of a crane? - no one scores except via explosive dunks and long, high-orbit jumpers, and I don't believe he filmed a single rebound.
I will say that while Mackie's cheekbones will take him a long way, he also has a real presence on the screen. And Lil' JJ swipes every scene he's in; actors named "Lil' " just seem to know how to do that.
As for writer/director Preston A. Whitmore II, one suspects he majored in film at California University of Los Angeles.
A 360 Pictures/Preston Pictures release. Director and writer: Preston A Whitmore II. Cast: Wayne Brady, Wesley Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Alicia Fears, Eva Pigford. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. Rated PG-13. 1 star.