Review: Uneven coming of age drama 'Boogie' never finds rhythm
Courtesy of Focus Features
Part coming of age story, part basketball melodrama, Eddie Huang’s directorial debut “Boogie” borrows an element or two from “The Catcher in the Rye'' and doesn’t try to hide it. Anchored by newcomer Taylor Takahashi, who doesn’t have the range to convince me he’s a 17-year old in high school, “Boogie” marks Takahashi’s sole sceen credit and with the right vehicle (and direction) he could be on his way to wonderful collaborations. But the uneven scope of Huang’s screenplay doesn’t do the principle cast - specifically Takashi - any favors. It’s a jumbled, uneven mess that’s got four different movies locked inside an 89-minute whirlpool and the emotional heft is non-existent.
Alfred “Boogie” Chen (Takahashi) is an ambitious high school basketball star whose parents believe he’s on track for the NBA and transfer him to City Prep, where he’ll square off against cross-town rival Monk (the late rapper Pop Smoke) and hopefully garner buzz from talent scouts. While the goal is to ultimately land an NBA contract, Boogie must secure a full-ride and considering his anger management issues on the court, offers aren’t rolling in. When he’s not dishing layups, Boogie finds romance with classmate Eleanor (Taylour Paige - “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) though it’s not enough to ease his mind from the pressure faced at home.
As if Huang wasn’t stating the obvious, Boogie likens himself to a modern day Holden Caulfield thanks to assigned reading in his AP English class. It’s a half-baked metaphor cooked into a busy script that deals with family distress and a shady agent who awkwardly blackmails Boogie into signing a contract to play ball overseas after his father ends up in jail. This underwhelming subplot comes so far out of left field, I questioned if Huang meant to include it. Boogie knows he’s got the talent and stamina to create a future for himself, yet the film around him seems to question those ideals.
However, the film hinges on Takahashi and though “Boogie” presents the shell of a teenager struggling with insecurities - whether that’s losing his virginity or dishing past trauma - the main performance seldomly finds rhythm. Without that extra flavor “Boogie” stalls and lacks an emotionally fulfilling payoff, especially during the climatic (and predictable) basketball showdown, a buffer on an already strenuous runtime, but the biggest flaw is how “Boogie” doesn’t give us a central character worth rooting for.
BOOGIE opens in theaters Friday, March 5th with a premium VOD release later this month.