'Mr. Chibbs': Film Review

Courtesy Abramorama and BMG Brokers
Not a slam dunk.

Jill Campbell's documentary profiles former NBA star Kenny Anderson.

There’s plenty of promising raw material in Jill Campbell’s documentary about former basketball great Kenny Anderson. A young prodigy who achieved fame while still playing in a Queens high school, Anderson was the No. 2 draft pick in 1991 and went on to a heralded 14-year career in the NBA. He earned millions but lost it all and eventually filed for bankruptcy. He has fathered eight children by five different women, has been married three times and admitted that he was physically abused as a child. And more recently, he accompanied Dennis Rodman on a controversial 2014 trip to play in North Korea. Mr. Chibbs relates all these aspects of his life and more and yet never proves compelling.

The film provides ample evidence of Anderson’s basketball prowess, both through testimonials from fellow players and game footage dating back to his high school years. But it mainly focuses on his troubled present-day state, the camera following him around in cinema-verite style. Now in his mid-forties, he recently lost his job coaching at a private Jewish high school after being arrested on a DUI (we see him exhaling into a breathalyzer that enables him to start his car). His current marriage to his wife Natasha proves troubled, as evidenced by her pained account of his numerous infidelities.

“I’m a walking mistake,” Anderson admits at one point, although he mostly puts on an affable demeanor. Recounting his life and career, he talks lovingly of his mother, whose childhood nickname for him provides the film’s title. In one of the more moving sequences, he’s seen tearing up while visiting her grave.

Although his trip to North Korea provided Anderson with much-needed money, it put a stain on his reputation. The documentary includes a clip from an interview conducted by Piers Morgan in which the talk show host pressures Anderson to donate the “blood money” to charity. Anderson grudgingly admits that he’ll give away a “portion.”

Rambling and diffuse, Mr. Chibbs frustratingly never digs deeply enough into its subject’s psyche. Despite Anderson’s extensive commentary, we never learn enough about the more painful aspects of his life, with the film content to merely skim the surface. Why he played for nine different teams over the course of his career, for instance, is never discussed. And the Korea incident, a significant episode in his life, is treated in only cursory fashion. But that’s par for the course for this biographical documentary that only succeeds in making you want to learn more about its subject.  

Production company: BMG Brokers
Distributor: Abramorama
Director-screenwriter: Jill Campbell
Producers: Jill Campbell, Barry Greenstein, Gregory Gerhard, Dr. Michaael J. Brunetti, John Getz
Executive producers: Dr. Michael Brunetti, Barry Greenstein, Richard Stehl
Directors of photography: Nelson Walker III, Gregory Gerhard, Oren Paley
Editors: Paul Lovelace, Joshua Woltermann
Composer: Jeff Parker

86 minutes

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