Just when we thought we might be able to rid our lives of His Royal Hairness for good, up pops Dennis Rodman again in this inevitable TV biopic whose lesson appears to be that painting your hair, tattooing your skin and piercing your nasal passage does wonders to stave off a midlife crisis — particularly if you’re a 6-foot-8 basketball star who happens to date Madonna. Leave it to network TV to turn the story of America’s most successful mental patient into a Horatio Alger tale for the ages.
If “Bad As I Wanna Be” tells us virtually nothing new about the unwound hound of rebound, it’s well-acted and surprisingly involving, considering the zealous overmarketing of its oddball subject. Rodman himself will no doubt exult over his treatment here as a complex, misunderstood free spirit who just wants to be loved on his own terms, dammit. As a bonus, he gets to be played by an actor who looks rather like Will Smith.
Relative newcomer Dwayne Adway stars here as Rodman, portraying him with perhaps more spunk and sensitivity than the self-absorbed subject deserves. Film traces his rise from a clean-cut but troubled adolescent growing tall in the Dallas projects through his tumultuous career in the NBA, first with the Detroit Pistons and later the San Antonio Spurs.
We see how Rodman’s momma pushed him to go to college and play ball, how he persevered through a difficult college experience in racist Durant, Okla., playing ball for coach Lonn Reisman (convincing work from Daniel Hugh Kelly, late of ABC’s “Second Noah”), how he was taken in by a white family in Oklahoma — becoming the surrogate son to a loving couple (played with spirit by Dee Wallace Stone and John Terry) — and how he smoothly adapted to the sexually free ways of NBA life.
Under director Jean De Segonzac’s charge, the basketball game scenes are oddly staged, almost ethereal. And the decision to have Rodman himself show up at various stages in all of his nose-ringed glory to punctuate plot points (“Being with Madonna wasn’t easy, man”) proves unsettling, particularly when juxtaposed with the innocent, insular version of the guy served up throughout most of the film.
As the teleplay moves with Rodman into his radical years in the pros (Wooh, he sleeps with white women! He elbows guys under the basket!), the movie finally charts his transformation into a wild-haired wonder, pointing to a low moment in a parked car when he fired a bullet from a gun and “killed” the old Dennis Rodman. Some might find it unfortunate that he failed to take the new one with him.
For a story that purports to be so brutally, shockingly honest, “Bad As I Wanna Be” (adapted by John Miglis and Gar Anthony Haywood from the book of the same name by Rodman and writer Tim Keown) is doggedly flattering and only mildly probing. It ends with Rodman’s 1995 defection to the Chicago Bulls, avoiding such messy details as his sadistic kicking of a photographer on the court, a boneheaded comparison of the Mormon religion to a cult and his creeping ambivalence about the game itself.
If the film isn’t quite a total fluff job (it does show him head-butting a referee and sanctimoniously browbeating his teammates), neither is it much more than a regurgitation of Rodman propaganda past. It further points up the fact that its protagonist continues to turn his status as the nation’s most overexposed live-action cartoon character into a cottage industry.
Rodman has said that he believes the movie will “surprise all the people who think they know the real me.” The only real surprise, however, is that the guy still matters enough to merit a two-hour primetime examination — and that this is apparently what passes for Black History Month programming at ABC.