Review by James Lindorf
Jackie “Blackjack” Ryan is a legend on the basketball courts of New York City. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Jakie rose to fame in high school, earning him praise as the white Michael Jordan. With fame comes expectations, expectations that resulted in Jackie being considered one of the biggest wastes of talent in basketball history. Director Danny A. Abeckaser and writer Antonio Macia focused their film on Jackie’s life’s lowest point. Jackie is single, his best friend is a criminal with a death wish, and he has finally resigned himself to a lifetime of working construction just like his grandfather, father, and brother instead of one playing basketball. Sportswriter Peter Vescey will give Jackie his last best shot by getting him a tryout with the New Jersey Nets. Jackie’s chance at a comeback starts October 30th with the release of “Blackjack: The Jackie Ryan Story” in a limited number of theaters and On Demand.
Generally, I have a pretty easy time deciding if a film is recommendable or not. There are a few instances where something is good but won’t appeal to a large market. Others where I have to decide if something is so bad it could be entertaining. That is where things tend to get tricky. Blackjack is too good to be considered bad but is it good enough to recommend is the question. There are a lot of things working in the movie’s favor. People love sports movies in general; we also love redemption stories meaning Abeckaser and Macia are off to a good start. There are also a few good performances from the supporting cast that buoy the movie.
The most significant weights dragging the movie down are its cinematography and its star. Overall, the film looks just fine, but the action scenes have dynamic elements. The basketball games look more like footage of an over 40 YMCA rec league than a group of NBA hopefuls fighting to make it in the country’s most exclusive sporting league. Part of the problem could be that lead actor Greg Finley doesn’t have the basketball skills required to give these scenes more energy, but the way it was filmed did him no favors. With the basketball scenes lacking luster, it comes down to the dramatic elements where Finely is fine. He doesn’t hurt the movie, but he doesn’t lift it either. Jackie is an unlikeable character for nearly the entire film; he is rude, selfish, entitled, and a cheater. Jackie does grow some, but Bill Murray made better progress with his baby steps.
The standouts of the movie are David Arquette as Big Jack, Jackie’s caustic and racist father. He may not entirely escape into a character like the elite level actors. Still, I love the turn Arquette is making in his career by moving on from being the goofy lead/sidekick to tackling much darker and complex roles. Will he ever get to do it on the scale he used to work at is unknown, but he should draw people to his work more than ever before. The other standout was Ashley Greene, best known for the Twilight series, who plays Jennie, Jackie’s former, current and then former again, girlfriend. Greene sells her role completely owning every scene, no matter if it is time for her to be playful, supportive, or combative; she steals the scene from Finely every time.
When weighing everything, the scales tip slightly in favor of recommending “Blackjack: The Jackie Ryan Story.” Maybe next time out, Abeckaser and Macia will fully commit to choosing a lead that can handle all parts of their movie. If they do, they have the ability to make a hit.
Original Language: English
Cast: Greg Finley, Ashley Greene, James Madio, Geoffrey Cantor, Moise Morancy, Michael Rapaport, Robert Davi and David Arquette.
Director: Danny A. Abeckaser
Producer: Danny A. Abeckaser, Vince P. Maggio
Writer: Antonio Macia
Runtime: 1h 38m
Production Co: 2B Films
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