The underground version of basketball known as streetball comes above ground in "Crossover," but the fascinating freeform game gets screened out by a ludicrous soap opera with poor dramatic moves. Hardly disguising its low-budget sources, pic isn't in any kind of shape for the theatrical leagues.

The underground version of basketball known as streetball comes above ground in “Crossover,” but the fascinating freeform game gets screened out by a ludicrous soap opera with poor dramatic moves. Overshadowed by vastly superior sports movies like “Invincible” and hardly disguising its low-budget sources, pic isn’t in any kind of shape for the theatrical leagues.

Hardscrabble Detroit is the setting for writer-director Preston A. Whitmore II’s depiction of a subculture that gives rise to teams with names like “Enemy of the State” and “Platinum” sparring on a court built in a gutted-out Greco-Roman train station. Opening-credits montage presents ex-sports agent Vaughn (Wayne Brady) as the hotshot CEO of the local streetball scene, which places a premium on betting, with a minimum on rules. Even the cops place bets with Vaughn.

For reasons that become clear only much later, Enemy captain Tech (Anthony Mackie) tells studious friend Cruise (Wesley Jonathan) to suit up for the game because he owes him a favor. This doesn’t help the squad, which loses to overpowering Platinum, led by smack-talking, power-dribbling phenom Jewelz (actual streetball player Phillip “Hot Sauce” Champion).

A signal that Whitmore’s script is in need of a rewrite is how Vaughn’s love interest Nikki (Kristen Wilson) is used as a crude aud surrogate to be schooled on this wildcat version of hoops, only to then quickly exit the movie for good.

Disappointingly, after this first game, there isn’t another one until nearly 85 minutes later. In between is an ersatz drama placing Tech at odds with both Cruise and Vaughn. Cruise knew that playing in the streetball match could jeopardize his med school scholarship; this foolish decision by an otherwise smart dude attracts Vaughn, who knows Cruise has NBA-caliber skills (though they’re barely on display) and wants to pitch him to the pros. But Cruise doesn’t want an NBA career.

The rickety script turns the ball over, though, when the guys hook up with two women, serious Eboni (Alecia Fears) and crafty Vanessa (Eva Pigford), who work at a nail salon. Vanessa’s an obvious gold-digger who veritably coos when Cruise tells her his plans to be a doctor. This leads to an absurdly conceived venture to Los Angeles –depicted as the land of broken dreams — and even a sequence on the lot of the pic’s distrib, Sony.

A comic treatment would have clearly benefited “Crossover,” but Whitmore’s apparent taste for a meller ruins what could have been a fun time.

Mackie, a usually good actor, looks out of sorts, but is momentarily lifted by verbal sparring with his teenage buddy named Up (an energetic Lil’ J.J.), who pairs with Tech to hustle locals in two-on-two games. Perfs tend to stiffen by the reel, since dialogue and character are hackneyed, and even Brady succumbs to the problem.

HD transfer to film is decent, but hardly helps the look of a film where one camera setup after another is vanilla-plain. Court action is only fair, with a flurry of cutaways as balls make — or miss — the net. Production values are basically indie quality, while even Whitmore’s Detroit hometown seems more like a backdrop than a real burg.

Crossover

Production

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a TriStar Pictures and 360 Pictures presentation of a Preston Picture. Produced by Frank Mancuso Jr. Executive producers, Tom Gores, Johnny O. Lopez. Co-producer, Lorenzo O'Brien, Aaron Mazzolini. Directed, written by Preston A. Whitmore II.

Crew

Camera (FotoKem color, HD video-to-35mm), Christian Sebaldt; editor, Anthony Adler; music, Matthias Weber; music supervisor, Paul Stewart; production designer, Dawn Snyder; set decorator, Linda Cooper; costume designer, Okera Banks; makeup, Brandi Mitchell; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Beau Williams; supervising sound editors, Rob Getty, Alec St. John; special effects supervisor, Jim Bowen; visual effects, Momentum Visual Effects; stunt coordinator, Merritt Yohnka; basketball consultant, Mark Edwards; assistant director, Regina Gordon; casting, Robi Reed. Reviewed at Sony Studios, Culver City, Aug. 29, 2006. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Tech - Anthony Mackie Noah Cruise - Wesley Jonathan Vaughn - Wayne Brady Nikki - Kristen Wilson Up - Lil' J.J. Jewelz - Phillip "Hot Sauce" Champion Vanessa - Eva Pigford Eboni - Alecia Fears
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