You know who rocks the paint? Judge David Johnson. He rocks it like a hurricane.
Basketball. Life. You gotta own it!
Racial tension ignites when a corn-fed Indiana high school hoops star transplants to Newark and learns some hard lessons.
Facts of the Case
Josh Sendler (Douglas Smith) is said hoops star, looking at an All State senior season and a possible championship. Then the rug gets pulled out from under him when his dad is forced to pick up and move to Newark, New Jersey. Now Josh finds himself in an alien land, with only his jump shot to lean on.
He befriends new teammate Antwon (Kevin Phillips), who is quick to educate Josh in street vernacular, specifically, what to avoid. More specifically, steer clear of the "N word," a rule Josh holds fast to. But the racial harmony he's worked so hard on is threatened when a pushy teammate nurses a grudge, and takes it out on his family and Josh is going to find how hard it can be to just get along.
First off, it's kind of hard to extol the virtues of racial unity in your movie when the theme song "Go white boy go!" constantly blares in the background. That might be sending the wrong message.
Rock the Paint has a good heart, but the impact of its ebony-and-ivory moral lesson is compromised by some weak performances and a hugely disappointing denouement. I hate to pick on young guns, but a lot of the blame for the film's unevenness must be laid at the feet of its star, Douglas Smith. He's a good-looking kid and shows flashes of skill, but for the majority of his time onscreen, it appears he's sleepwalking. Maybe this is how the character was written, but Josh has the charisma of a desk lamp. Even when he's engaged in presumably emotional activities like courting his best friend's deaf sister or getting his ass kicked on the playground or preventing his annoying little brother from starting off an inner city race war, the guy's personality is consistently in neutral. Things get a tad more animated towards the end when the racial stuff boils over, but by then it's too late.
Kevin Phillips, as his counterpart Antwon, comes across substantially better. The kid has talent and puts forth an energetic performance. Unfortunately, the writing gets in the way and his character makes weird decisions. Like, why is he compelled to befriend Josh in the first place, much to the chagrin of his best friends? It's not like the new kid is overflowing with joviality. And then he immediately flips out when his new friend's jackass nine-year-old brother says the "N-word" and gives Josh the evil eye.
Worse, there's the ending. I'll tread lightly around spoiler territory, but there's a moment in the Big Game when Josh loses his cool and ignites a firestorm with his outburst. Then, the film jumps ahead one year later and we find out Antwon and Josh haven't talked to each other since and they share a few brief words in a hallway and one of them says the title of the movie and the end credits roll. It's a major storytelling misstep and undermines the relationship between the two guys, which of course the entire film is built on.
Also, for a basketball film, there's not a whole lot of basketball being played. Some practice scenes, a one-on-one match at the playground and the final game, but they're not choreographed to generate sports excitement. And Smith is obviously not a real player.
The film is presented well in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital. A commentary with the cast and crew, deleted scenes and making of featurette add up to a fine selection of extras.
I wanted to dig this movie, but I couldn't quite roll with it.
The accused fouls out.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Allumination Filmworks
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