A by-the-playbook, family-friendly basketball comedy that never strays outside the paint, “Thunderstruck” likely won’t score much coin during its limited theatrical runs. Still, this lightly amusing confection — a Warner Premiere presentation that all too obviously resembles a typical made-for-homevid product — could rebound during playoffs in smallscreen platforms.
Taylor Gray of Nickelodeon’s “Bucket and Skinner’s Epic Adventures” stars as Brian, a 16-year-old Oklahoma City high schooler who worships NBA superstar Kevin Durant (playing himself) but proves to be a world-class klutz when he sets foot on the court. Reduced to serving as a gofer for better athletes on his school team, he’s repeatedly humiliated by his own ineptitude, until his dad takes him to see Durant at an Oklahoma City Thunder game.
The bad news: When Brian attempts a half-court shot during a halftime contest, he winds up bouncing the ball off the Thunder team mascot (who, it should be noted, is none too happy about serving as the boy’s backboard). The good news: When Durant tries to cheer up the embarrassed teen by handing him an autographed ball, something magical occurs — and the NBA superstar’s talent switches over, “Freaky Friday”-style, to the high-school underachiever.
Working from a patchwork script by Eric Champnella and Jeff Farley, John Whitesell directs in the manner of someone dutifully ticking off checklist items. Brian wows his blustering coach (Jim Belushi) with his newfound skills. The suddenly klutzy Durant spirals into a jeer-worthy slump. As Brian becomes increasing cocky in the spotlight, he neglects his best buddy (Doc Shaw) and new sweetie (Tristin Mays). Check, check and triple check.
Brandon T. Jackson has some funny moments as Durant’s agent, the first person to note the connection between his client’s downfall and Brian’s ascendancy. And while nothing unpredictable ever occurs throughout the entire pic, the climactic game in which Brian must stand or fall on his own merits is efficiently shot and excitingly choreographed.
Durant has much to learn as an actor, but he’s a good sport — and, yes, a believable klutz — while he’s trying to look like a total loser on the hardcourt. Among the many real-life sportscasters and NBA notables who play themselves in cameo bits, Charles Barkley is laugh-out-loud funny here, tossing barbed insults in the same freewheeling fashion he does during real TNT halftime shows. At one point, fellow commentator Shaquille O’Neal appears genuinely peeved by one of Barkley’s remarks. That, too, looks authentic.