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Cross the street to avoid ‘Crossover’

When a movie’s highlight is Wayne Brady, there’s something wrong
/ Source: The Associated Press

The one vaguely compelling element of “Crossover” is its casting of Wayne Brady — wholesome, smiling, all-around good guy Wayne Brady — as a villain.

Granted, as a former sports agent he’s a slick, sharply dressed villain, but still. Definitely not a singing-and-dancing talk show host, which makes the role a surprising change of pace.

And that’s about the only surprise in “Crossover,” a basketball movie that’s chock full of ghetto cliches and which writer-director Preston A. Whitmore II whipped up in a style that can best be described as Short Attention Span Theater.

Oh wait, here’s something else that was unexpected: Whitmore manages to take the fantastic-looking, charismatic Anthony Mackie (“She Hate Me,” “Million Dollar Baby”) and drain him of all his natural magnetism, not just with flat writing but with production values that look and sound laughably low-budget. And not in a plucky, quirky indie way, either. (It’s actually amazing that “Crossover” was shown to critics before opening day, especially this year when more than a dozen other dismal movies weren’t.)

Mackie stars as Tech, a star of Detroit’s underground street basketball world. Tech is stuck in a dead-end job at the mall and is struggling to get his GED after spending his senior year of high school in prison for assault. He has slight stirrings of interest in going pro, but mostly he plays the game for the money he makes at the end, which he uses to help support his mom and younger siblings.

His best friend and teammate is Noah Cruise (Wesley Jonathan), who lives with his grandmother in a better part of town. Cruise is headed to college in Los Angeles on a basketball scholarship, and even though he’s both smarter and more talented than his friend, his real dream is to go to medical school. He also drives a very expensive, dangerous motorcycle, so we know from the second we see him on it at the movie’s start that this vehicle will land him in trouble by the end.

Whitmore sets the scene with a dizzying flurry of staccato edits and jump cuts, supersonic zooms and pans set to incessant, interchangeable rap beats. That is, until the first midnight game. That’s when Whitmore shows off the elaborate street moves — behind-the-back passes and alley-oops, slam dunks and subsequent hanging on the rim — through repeated slow motion. (This is also his preferred method of shooting the bootylicious dancers on the sidelines, all of whom are apparently headless, since we only see them jiggling from the neck down.)

Tech, Cruise and their friends want to unseat Jewelz (Phillip “Hot Sauce” Champion) and his team, who have long ruled these showdowns. Brady’s Vaughn, who runs the league and manages all the betting that goes on, will back whichever player will make him the most money.

Also in the mix are Eboni (Alecia Fears), who’s after Tech (“Look, Tech, I can’t front. I’m feelin’ you,” she says poolside, one of countless examples of how the movie tells instead of showing) and Vanessa (“America’s Next Top Model” winner Eva Pigford), who latches onto Cruise when she hears he’s headed for California. Both come off as scantily dressed, opportunistic hoochie mommas.

That’s about it: basketball, women in tight clothes, some trash talk, some more basketball. A couple of dramatic plot points come and go with the speed of a buzzer-beating shot. And like the style of play the film glorifies, it’s all flash and no fundamentals.