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Review: Lively 'Boogie' balances home, school and basketball life

"Fresh Off the Boat" author Eddie Huang's debut film is a raw coming of age tale

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

An Asian American father and son watch a worn-down copy of Michael Chang's 1989 French Open victory over Ivan Lendl. "Greatest moment in Asian American history," the father says to his son. His son laughs. "This tennis match? C'mon," he says. "Name another," the father replies. 

The son brings up several examples — Linsanity, Maya Lin designing the Vietnam War Memorial — each of which the father refutes. It's the kind of casual cultural conversation between Asian Americans that is rarely seen on screen, and filmmaker Eddie Huang's voice comes through loud and clear in "Boogie," a promising if flawed debut film about the struggles between honor, tradition and family, set against the backdrop of a young athlete coming into his own skin. 

Taylor Takahashi in "Boogie."

Taylor Takahashi plays Alfred "Boogie" Chin, a high school basketball star in New York City on his way, he hopes, to the NBA. First he needs a scholarship, and the road to that scholarship leads to a showdown with the city's top prospect, Monk (the late Bashar "Pop Smoke" Jackson), at the end of the basketball season. 

Boogie's got more on his mind than just basketball. His hoop dreams also represent those of his parents, whose strained relationship hangs on Boogie's success on the court. Boogie also has a bit of an attitude problem, brought on in part by his father's violent outbursts, and Boogie's extracurricular activities include a budding romance with a classmate, Eleanor (Taylour Paige). 

"Fresh Off the Boat" author Huang cooks everything up in a raw, honest look at high school and city life; teens talk like teens, and while it's not always pretty, it feels real. A strong current of hip-hop weaves through the film, which becomes part of its rich textural fabric. However, the narrative gets boggled in the final act, building to an improbable climax that derails the film's momentum. But Huang's voice and point of view are sharp, and once his storytelling catches up, it'll be cause to boogie. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Boogie'

GRADE: B-

Rated R: for language throughout including sexual references, and some drug use

Running time: 89 minutes

In theaters