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LeBron James (middle) with his teammates from St. Vincent-St. Mary's High School in Akron, Ohio.
LeBron James (middle) with his teammates from St. Vincent-St. Mary's High School in Akron, Ohio.

They're sincere, but they're still clichés Add to ...

  • Country USA
  • Language English

More Than a Game

  • Directed by Kristopher Belman
  • Written by Kristopher Belman and Brad Hogan
  • Starring LeBron James
  • Classification: PG

More Than a Game is less than a movie. Really, it's just an extension of the LeBron James brand, released to coincide with a book on the same subject and designed to explore the star's humble roots even while further buffing his galactic glitter. For the uninitiated, "King" James ranks among the premiere basketball players on the planet, having jumped to the pro ranks in the NBA right out of high school in Akron. Indeed, it's those adolescent years that form the crux of this documentary, whisking us back to the days when the King was a not-so-little Prince attended by his teenage courtiers.

No doubt, director Kristopher Belman has in his possession some primo archival footage. Back in 2003, when James's team was contending for the national high-school championship - a big televised deal in sports-hungry America - Belman obtained close-up access to the locker room, the practise court, the bus rides. By then, still only 17, James had already made the cover of Sports Illustrated, had accepted his mantle as The Chosen One, and was pulling up to any class he didn't skip in a $50,000 Hummer. Now, in jock media circles, such intimate footage is precious, as is the even earlier video of a still younger LeBron lighting it up in elementary school. Alas, what Belman does with the stuff is not so rare - he makes the precious feel, well, precious.

So that 2003 contest becomes the Big Game, which gets woven through the entire film. Around it, the spotlight falls not just on James but equally on four other members of the collective "Fab Five," who have been together since their freshman year. In each case, we hear their back-stories. Most, including James, are inner-city kids with a shared history of missing father, beleaguered mother and multiple homes. The exception is Little Dru Joyce, whose dad - yep, Big Dru - coaches the team and serves as the doc's principal narrator.

Happily, Big Dru is an articulate and sensitive fellow. Unhappily, what he's most prone to sensitively articulating is an entire litany of sports clichés. His belief in these bromides is patently sincere and, without question, beneficial to his boys hearing them for the first time. But to the jaundiced rest of us, it can get a tad wearisome to discover that "you can't measure the size of a man's heart," and "you don't ever give up on your dream," and " to be the best, you have to beat the best," and "you keep learning, you never stop learning."

Well, in that edifying spirit, we eventually learn that Kelman hopes to season this pot of triteness with the salt of real drama. Every now and then, in the lead-up to the Big Game, he injects a small crisis: Will that selfish outsider come to realize that there's no I in team? Will the boys, riding a string of easy victories, get too cocky and forget what got them there? Will LeBron's Hummer tarnish his amateur status and get him turfed off the squad?

Oh, there are dangers lurking everywhere, but dying of suspense isn't one of them. When the wise coach, in his umpteenth pep talk, urges his charges, "Let's do this. Let's end this thing the right way," we're pretty damn sure this thing will end the only way it can, the way it must. In the interim, there's some nifty game footage, especially of The Chosen One in choice form. And there's the satisfaction of knowing that the Jamesian brand now stretches beyond the b-ball court right into your nearby multiplex. After all, it's more than a game.

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