'Slamma Jamma': Film Review
A former college basketball star tries to start a new life after being released from prison in Timothy A. Chey's religious-themed sports drama.
Combining its inspirational and sports-movie tropes in hackneyed, unoriginal fashion, Timothy A. Chey’s Slamma Jamma seems to be anticipating its own bad reviews. One of the film’s minor characters is an obnoxious “sports critic” who gets a tongue-lashing from an observer who questions his credentials for commenting about basketball even though he’s never played the game himself. Well, most people have never made a movie but they know a bad one when they see one, and this is it.
Not that this effort isn’t earnest and well-meaning. Telling the story of a former college basketball star who tries to rebuild his life after spending six years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, the film hits its emotional points in a blunt, heavy-handed fashion that may resonate with some viewers. And for basketball fans, it offers the cinematic equivalent of terrific pick-up games often found on urban courts.
Chris Staples — a five-time world slam dunk champion and former Harlem Globetrotter making his acting debut — plays the lead role of Michael Diggs, newly released from prison after having unwittingly gotten involved in an armed robbery that resulted in a fatality. Having found religion while incarcerated, Michael returns to his former home, only to find his loving mother deeply in debt and his younger brother embarked on a life of crime.
Describing himself as a “changed man,” Michael somehow immediately finds a job at a grocery store, and encounters former friends and acquaintances who all greet him with the same question: “When did you get out?” Despite his travails, he remains free of bitterness, even when discovering that his former fiancée has taken up with his old friend, who’s now earning millions playing in the NBA.
His desperation signaled by eating moldy bread discarded by the store where he works, Michael nonetheless finds time to play basketball with new friends and help a pastor restore his dilapidated church. He even manages to win a large sum in a basketball competition, only to have to give it up when tragedy strikes. So he prepares to defy the odds — cue the inevitable training montage — and make a big comeback in a nationally televised slam dunk competition carrying a $1 million prize.
The film’s hoary, melodramatic plotting and painfully awkward dialogue leave nary a cliché untouched. The principal characters are all either saintly or villainous, with the latter exemplified by a sleazy sports agent (former NFL star Michael Irvin) who declares that the only god he worships is money. Michael’s chief competition in the slam dunk competition is a crew-cut German athlete who looks like he just stepped out of a Nazi propaganda film about Aryan superiority.
Playing a character so noble in every respect that he feels too good to be true, Staples doesn’t get the opportunity to convey much more than stoic suffering. But he’s certainly got good looks to spare, and his formidable athletic abilities are on ample display. The rest of the performances can charitably be described as adequate, although Jose Canseco deserves points for his cameo appearance in which he’s seen happily taking a bribe to change a score while judging the climactic competition. The technical elements are uniformly subpar, including the terrible cinematography that haphazardly mixes B&W and color in the flashback scenes. Amazingly, the film was shot by veteran Dean Cundey, whose extensive credits include Jurassic Park and Back to the Future, and whose work here could only have been mandated by a community service sentence.
Distributor-production company: RiverRain Productions
Cast: Chris Staples, Michael Irvin, Jose Canseco, Ryan Gunnarson, Ray Walia, Michael Hardy, Aqueela Zoll, Kelsey Caesar, Gary Smith
Director-screenwriter-producer: Timothy A. Chey
Executive producers: Susan F. Chey, Ihar Devella, Pavan Koppu, Appi Reddy, Ray Wallia
Director of photography: Dean Cundey
Production designer: Mark Helmuth
Editor: Chris Conlee
Costume designer: LaRae Wilson
Casting: Michelle Albright, Lara Fisher, William Thomas Jones, Morgue N. Marcus
Rated PG, 104 minutes