If you've ever rooted for a sports team that had good players but couldn't quite pull it together for a season, you'll understand how I felt watching Boogie. The movie offers some much-needed representation onscreen, has good performances, and is filled with admirable ambitions. And yet, a fundamental inability to settle on a single tone keeps undermining those positive qualities. Every time it seems as though the story is finally going to click, it fumbles the ball again.
Written and directed by Eddie Huang (TV's Fresh Off the Boat), the plot focuses on Alfred “Boogie” Chin (Taylor Takahashi), an 18-year-old basketball phenomenon from Queens. His dream, fueled by his father (Perry Yung), is to become one of the few Asian superstars in the NBA. To that end, Boogie is moved to a different high school, where he'll have the chance to play against Monk (late rapper Bashar “Pop Smoke” Jackson), the most skilled young player in the city. If he can beat Monk, Boogie can practically write his own ticket.
Unfortunately, several obstacles are in his path. Boogie has a chip on his shoulder, which causes him to repeatedly clash with his new coach (The Wire's Domenick Lombardozzi). His mother (Pamelyn Chee) hires someone to help him acquire a full college scholarship that never seems to come. Discord between his parents, which sometimes gets physical, proves a distraction. Then there's Eleanor (Taylour Paige), Boogie's new girlfriend. Keeping his eye on the prize is a little harder when he also wants to spend time with her.
All the elements are there for Boogie to be a great movie. Taylor Takahashi, making his motion picture debut, is wonderful as the title character. He's got the right mix of swagger and vulnerability. Through his efforts, we really want to see this guy succeed, and we want to lovingly slap him upside the head whenever he does something to self-sabotage. The actor has good chemistry with Paige, too. They create a believable teenage romance. Basketball sequences are nicely shot, with Takahashi and Jackson visibly doing their own playing.
Where the picture stumbles is in its inability to pick one tone and stick to it. At times, it goes a broad comedic route, with Boogie's uncle rambling on about the symptoms of his Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Other times, it wants to be dark and gritty, focusing on Mr. Chin's history of criminal activity and abuse of his wife. Still other times, the movie aims to be a touching coming-of-age story. As if all that wasn't enough, there's a fantasy element needlessly thrown in, regarding a fortune teller Boogie's parents visited before he was born.
Boogie abruptly veers from one tone to another, leading it to feel disjointed and inconsistent. Eddie Huang is a talented guy, but this is his first movie and he hasn't quite grasped cinematic storytelling yet. I have little doubt he will learn it, successfully making more cohesive films in the future. This particular film shows promise in terms of subject matter, and uncertainty in terms of maintaining a steady mood.
out of four
Boogie is rated R for language throughout including sexual references, and some drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.