Mar 19, 2021 | LIFE | By Andrew Rodden | Illustration by Xixi Qin
Was it worth driving through heavy winds, sideways snow, and black ice on the roads to see Eddie Huang’s “Boogie” (2021) during the tail end of this weekend’s “Snowmageddon?” Well, there is a reason the auditorium was empty, and I don’t think it was completely due to the storm. Aside from some slick visuals of Queens, N.Y. (and shots of delicious-looking East Asian food), Huang’s feature-length directorial debut is a let-down.
Written and directed by Huang (famed chef and the creator of “Fresh Off the Boat”), the film follows the life of Alfred “Boogie” Chin, a high school student with big dreams of becoming a professional basketball player in the NBA. He is skilled, and his dreams aren’t that far out of reach; he’s one of the best in his league.
Unfortunately, his family cannot afford the tuition to colleges he would hope to play ball for, and his attitude issues are preventing him from scoring vital scholarships. With his troubles at school, his parents’ heavy expectations, and a new girlfriend, Boogie winds up with a lot on his plate.
“Boogie” is cool and stylish, complimented by a well-curated soundtrack. The value of one’s cultural heritage is a strongly developed theme in “Boogie,” and the care Huang took to emphasize Boogie’s Taiwanese American background is hands down the strongest element of the film. This thematic meat is sturdy enough, but the structural skeleton fails to prop it up.
When I sit down to watch a basketball movie, I better see some intense, high stakes basketball. “Boogie” features several scenes where teams are playing, yes, but they come off as practice scrimmages. None of the matches have the intense Game Seven feel that basketball games in basketball movies should have, and, like Boogie himself, I couldn’t care less about any of these sleepy games.
With choppy editing and way-too-close close-ups, there’s hardly enough time to take in the action during what should have been compelling basketball games. I wanted more badass training montages, and gritty, intense games that keep you on the edge of your seat.
Even when matching up against his rival (played by the late Pop Smoke in his only acting role) there’s not enough of that thrilling oomph you’d find in other high school basketball movies like “Coach Carter” (2005). The film simply lacks engaging action.
The stakes of the film were nonexistent; from the very beginning, there was no question that Boogie was going to get the scholarship or sign the mega contract with the Chinese Basketball Association or get the girl. For the type of coming-of-age basketball movie that this is, it only needs to offer the slightest doubt that maybe, just maybe, the protagonist will fail.
However, there is never a doubt that this kid is going to succeed. When the driving question of “Boogie” is “Will Boogie make it?” the character’s future needs to be jeopardized. This never happens, and therefore Huang ultimately fails to inject desperately needed high stakes drama into “Boogie.”
With zero stakes, there is not much in “Boogie” to keep you hooked. Huang’s movie falls flat, making it tough to recommend even if you do have access to a movie theater. “Boogie” released in theaters March 5, 2021.