It’s a refreshing change of pace to have the story of Hanukkah recounted by someone other than Adam Sandler. But Disney Channel’s schmaltzy “Full Court Miracle” may leave viewers pining for the comedian’s off-key singing and off-color antics.
Director Stuart Gillard misses a prime opportunity to present a poignant and entertaining multicultural alternative to the usual holiday viewing; instead, pic just mimics the maudlin emotions and forced sentiments of all Christmas fare — with over-the-top kosher flair. How many other movies this season can boast a line like, “You ‘da mensch,” or a hip-hop song that samples lyrics from “The Dreidel Song?”
Claiming to be inspired by a true story, script by Joel Kauffmann, Joel Silverman and Don Yost waffles between a “Bad News Bears”-like remake and the feel-good antics of an Afterschool Special.
“Judging Amy’s” Richard T. Jones stars as Lamont Carr, a former U. of Virginia college basketball star hoping for a second shot at the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers. A knee injury sidelined his career, and while waiting for his next shot at the pros, Lamont is discovered at a public playground by Alex Schlotsky (Alex D. Linz), the self-appointed leader of the Hebrew Academy Lions.
The Lions have never won a game, and the disinterested calculus teacher standing in as coach doesn’t look to improve their chances. Alex is the only player with a modicum of talent, but he’s being pressured by his mother to focus his attention on academics so he can become a doctor like her. But Alex has his own plans, including one that calls for recruiting the coaching help of the gruff but talented Lamont.
Lamont is living out of his van and sending what money he can back to his wife and son in Virginia. The boys pay him with their combined allowances and whatever they can scrape together. Soon Lamont is making a team out of a bunch of geeks.
At the same time, the boys are learning about the story of Hanukkah, and the holiday’s message “not by might, not by power, but by my spirit” resonates through the team as they have to fight with parents and school administrators who are hesitant to bring Lamont on as official coach. But just when it looks like the boys will make it to the city tournament, Lamont is called up to play with the 76ers, leaving the boys coachless again.
For a movie that purportedly touts notions of establishing the truth of your own identity, the script is surprisingly devoid of one. Gillard lays the groundwork for a meaningful drama but inconsistently intersperses fantasy elements and slapstick comedy.
Ultimately, however, it’s the heavy-handed analogy of the miracle of Hanukkah translated into a school generator that supposedly has only a few minutes of fuel left during the big tournament game that sends the movie over the top.
In fact, the most moving moments of the pic aren’t the ones intended. At one point, Alex bemoans he and his friends are a bunch of uncoordinated Jews, and Lamont is quick to respond, “Don’t put yourself in the box,” Through his intense reaction, viewers get a sense that he is speaking from experience. But these personal and semi-realistic moments are overshadowed by ridiculous scenes like that of the prune-faced school administrator horrified to see her students “gettin’ jiggy with it.”
Tech credits are rough.