Freestyle Movie Review
Ondene (Stanhope-Bosumpim) is a light-skinned black girl attending a posh private school and preparing for her Oxford University entrance exams. But she'd really rather shoot hoops on the basketball court next door with the street thugs. When she hears about an upcoming freestyle basketball competition, she teams up with local boy Leon (Kene) to train, which really angers her high-achieving mum (McLean). As romance with Leon blossoms, trouble looms on every side for Ondene and the future her mother has mapped out for her.
The tone is more like a TV movie than a street drama, which means that the rough life on this grim South London estate actually doesn't look so bad. No one uses drugs or strong language, everyone is understanding to a fault. Even Ondene's mother, the obligatory villain of the piece, is only stern for her daughter's good. And the actors aren't strong enough to add nuance or texture to their characters. Only Allen has the nerve to go for a full-on performance as Leon's nasty lowlife hanger-on Gez.
But where the film comes undone is in the trite plot, which simply recycles story points from every other film in the genre. Even if the setting is realistic, the premise isn't. And director Lee strains for emotional resonance without actually giving us characters we can identify with, simply because we don't believe any of them. He also shoots everything in tight close-up with heavy editing, which makes it impossible to see either the ballgames or the freestyling.
The Step Up movies were pretty bad too, but at least they wowed us with the dance moves. Lee cuts away from almost every stunt or trick, and when he finally does show us a manoeuvre, it's simply not that impressive (which is due to the camerawork, not the talent of the performers). Some of these moves are quite whizzy, but they never make our jaws drop. And the film never manages to generate enough heat to make us care anyway.
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