Kristopher Belman’s More Than a Game is a great example of a movie being perfectly fine given what it is. But even at that, what the film is just isn’t much. It’s a look at the high-school years of basketball superstar LeBron James, but the film is never able to transcend its standing as a gussied-up ESPN special.
This, however, doesn’t stop Belman from a game attempt. The draw here, of course, is James, but the film is less about him than it is his relationship with his high-school teammates and their friendship. The movie begins with James and three best friends (Dru Joyce III, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee) all on their eighth-grade team, then follows the guys through high school and James’ sudden stardom and the media circus that followed.
Presumably, the idea behind the movie was to create a real-life equivalent to the uplifting sports movie and mix it with a coming-of-age tale. There’s no shortage of drama to cover, from Joyce III’s father’s attempts to reconcile his roles as a dad and his son’s coach, to the hard-luck lives these kids lead before finding themselves as part of a high-school-basketball juggernaut.
But while there’s always the sense that the problems these kids faced during this time were genuine, there’s never much tension surrounding any of it. This is a direct result of the style of filmmaking More Than a Game deals in. The film is peopled with talking-head interviews and Ken Burns-esque old photographs interspersed with old video and newsreel footage. Any tension or drama that’s inherent in the material is lost in the film’s stylistic dormancy, something better suited for a television set than a movie theater.
Educational? Maybe. Beyond that, there’s little to recommend to the average filmgoer. Documentaries usually trade in specialized topics, but in this case, there’s not much for anyone who doesn’t already have an interest in basketball. Rated PG for brief mild language and incidental smoking.