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Beastie's Burden

A rapper's hoops documentary falls short

WHEN THE end credits of Gunnin' for That #1 Spot, Adam Yauch's uneven new basketball documentary, roll, top billing goes to Harlem's legendary Rucker Park—odd, considering that, like Brando in Apocalypse Now, the star is barely seen until the movie is more than half over. The park's absence is a surprise: Yauch is better known as MCA, one third of the Beastie Boys, and given the Boys' well-documented affection for New York City, hoops and all things old school, a love letter to a hometown basketball landmark would be right in his wheelhouse.

But Gunnin' isn't an homage to the court. In fact, it never really figures out what it is. The movie follows eight high school players as they prepare for, then play in the 2006 Elite 24 Hoops Classic, an all-star game at Rucker. The first 45 minutes is a string of interviews with the eight, including 2008 lottery picks Michael Beasley and Kevin Love. Occasionally they talk interestingly about what excelling at Rucker would mean to them, but for the most part they dish out the kind of platitudes one would expect from a halftime TV feature. (One player says, "I love things. I like to hang out with my friends. I love my family." All right, then.)

Things pick up when the game begins. Yauch, who has directed several outstanding Beastie Boys videos, provides plenty of eye-catching but the game isn't enough to carry the movie, because there's just not enough at stake. This isn't Hoop Dreams; given their status as the best players in the country, we're pretty sure these guys are going to make it, no matter how they play in what is essentially just an exhibition game. Occasionally the movie hints at the murky waters a top recruit has to navigate: the sneaker company politics, the slimy AAU coaches, the family members who are counting on them—perhaps a bit too avidly. The most poignant moment comes in Gunnin's final scene, when an older brother of Memphis-bound guard Tyreke Evans says of the players: "They're living for so many people." Leaving the theater, it's hard not to wish that angle had been explored more vigorously.

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