- Rated PG
All photos © Lionsgate
Reviewed by David Medsker
erhaps the worst thing you can say about “More Than a Game,” the documentary that follows four young basketball players as they go from fifth-grade Cinderellas to high school powerhouses, is that the story is so similar in structure to Disney sports dramas like “The Greatest Game Ever Played” and “Glory Road” that it’s hard to believe the plot wasn’t massaged a little in order to represent those movies. But that’s the thing about these stories – no matter the sport, or occupation, they all begin in the same place, one of insurmountable odds. If the story of these boys’ rise to glory feels too similar to that of Jimmy “The Rookie” Morris, frankly, that is our problem, not theirs.
The movie begins “Walk the Line”-style, at the story’s end, and then jumps back to the beginning. The players of Akron, Ohio’s St. Vincent - St. Mary High School are about to play the 2003 Championship Game, but for many of these players, the journey began years earlier as a sponsor-less group of inner city Ohio kids who stunned the basketball world by advancing to the AAU Championship Game. Now entering their freshman year, those players (Romeo Travis, Sian Cotton, Willie McGhee, Dru Joyce III and one LeBron James) chose to stay together as a team, following their AAU coach Keith Dambrodt to St. Vincent – St. Mary and beginning an extraordinary run of success that would border on Beatlemania levels of fandom. It wasn’t long before they ran into trouble, though, as Dambrodt left to coach the University of Akron (Dru Joyce’s father took his place, causing all sorts of father/son, player/coach problems) and the players began to get complacent. Oh, and there was that whole thing about a dead-broke Gloria James securing a loan to buy her son a Hummer for his 18th birthday.
Director Kristopher Belman works miracles in terms of stretching a very limited amount of footage and photographs a long way, and works in some nifty graphics for the tournament updates and newspaper headliners. His present-day interviews with the Fab Five, as they eventually called themselves (Romeo Travis began their run as a bit of an outsider), are not particularly deep, but they’re honest. Of course, when King James is one of your movie’s producers, it’s understood that the movie will portray its subjects in the most flattering light possible, and there is no better example of that than when it comes to James’ own indiscretions with the Hummer and the accepting of two gift jerseys that got him suspended.
So yes, the movie loses its objectivity, but it’s still an entertaining story, and better yet, one that does not wallow in misery, as most documentarians are wont to do. Think of “More Than a Game” as “Hoop Dreams” sprinkled with magical Disney fairy dust, a touching tribute to the people who helped James get to where he is today.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
Lionsgate kept it simple, but hit the mark on the DVD for "More Than a Game." There are three short and sweet featurettes on the making of the movie, scoring the movie, and sports psychology. There are also three trailers, one of which is for a movie from 2008. That's all, folks.