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"HE GOT GAME"
(1998) (Denzel Washington, Ray Allen) (R)

Alcohol/
Drugs
Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Frightening/
Tense Scenes
Guns/
Weapons
Heavy Minor *Heavy Mild Mild
Imitative
Behavior
Jump
Scenes
Music
(Scary/Tense)
Music
(Inappropriate)
Profanity
Mild None Minor Heavy Extreme
Sex/
Nudity
Smoking Tense Family
Scenes
Topics To
Talk About
Violence
Extreme Mild Heavy Mild Moderate


QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A prisoner convicted of killing his wife has seven days to convince his estranged son, the number one high school basketball player in the country, to attend the Governor's favorite college that in turn might just earn him an early parole.
PLOT:
Jesus Shuttlesworth (RAY ALLEN) is the number one basketball player in the country. The top colleges want him, as do the pros, and his friends and even strangers want a piece of his guaranteed success. Jesus doesn't know what to do and tries to sort things out while spending time with his girlfriend, Lala Bonilla (ROSARIO DAWSON), his cousin and teammate, Coleman "Booger" Sykes (HILL HARPER), and his younger sister, Mary (ZELDA HARRIS).

He's taken over raising her since his mother, Martha (LONETTE McKEE), died, and his father Jake (DENZEL WASHINGTON) went to prison. In fact, it's Jesus' prominence that gives his estranged father a new chance at life. Serving fifteen years for Martha's death, Jake is told that the Governor may shorten his term if he can convince his son to attend Big State, the Governor's alma mater. The problem is, Jake only has seven days to do so as Jesus must make his decision by then.

A bigger dilemma for Jake, however, is that his son wants absolutely nothing to do with him, and has little time to deal with his attempts at reconciliation. As Jake returns home to Coney Island under the tight supervision of two parole officers, Spivey (JIM BROWN) and Crudup (JOSEPH LYLE TAYLOR), and befriends a wayward prostitute, Dakota Burns (MILLA JOVOVICH), he races against time to make amends with his son.

WILL KIDS WANT TO SEE IT?
If they're fans of basketball or Spike Lee movies ("Do The Right Thing," "Get On The Bus" ), or of someone in the cast, they just might. Preteens, however, should have little or no interest in the film (unless they're big basketball fans).
WHY THE MPAA RATED IT: R
The reason was not available, but we'd guess it was for sexuality, language, and brief drug use.
CAST AS ROLE MODELS:
  • DENZEL WASHINGTON plays a man serving time for accidentally killing his wife. Before then, and hoping and dreaming that his son's gifts might get him out of the projects, he pushed his son to the limits of physical and mental endurance. As he tries to make amends with his son, he drinks and curses some.
  • RAY ALLEN plays the young basketball star who's feeling pressure from everyone about what to choose for his life. He has raised his younger sister without any parents (but with an aunt and uncle), and apparently got his girlfriend pregnant (she had an abortion). During his seven days to make a decision, he curses a lot, is angry toward his father and others who put pressure on him, and has casual sex with two college coeds.
  • MILLA JOVOVICH plays a prostitute regularly beaten by her boyfriend/pimp and who Jake befriends.
  • ROSARIO DAWSON plays Jesus' girlfriend who had an abortion (before the story begins), tries to ride his potential future success, and cheats on him with another guy.
  • CAST, CREW, & TECHNICAL INFO

    HOW OTHERS RATED THIS MOVIE


    OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
    Never known to make a boring movie in his twelve year feature film career, writer/director Spike Lee has one again delivered a compelling picture with "He Got Game." As much a story about father son relationships as it is about basketball, this film is often brilliant, nearly always good, and only suffers from a few questionable moments that keep it from being a truly great film.

    Loaded from the onset with a great deal of background story, the film opens with a great cross country montage of young basketball players from all walks off life. Featuring impressive slow motion footage of the leaping, spinning, and jumping players and the slowly spinning ball heading toward the hoop, the montage not only shows Lee's great love and admiration of the game, but it also immediately grabs the audience and takes them along for the ride. Featuring a fun score by the late composer Aaron Copland, this sequence is quite effective.

    In fact most of the beloved composer's included score works quite well, but there are a few moments that don't. This isn't intended to sound racist because it has nothing to do with skin color and instead locale, but Copland's well-known "Rodeo: 'Hoe Down" doesn't fit at all with an inner-city, outdoor basketball game. Reminding one of America's heartland of days gone by, the piece would work in period films like "Hoosiers" or "The Natural" (the Redford baseball film that did feature a Copland inspired Randy Newman score), but not in this particular setting. It's a minor objection, but since the music is featured so prominently in several scenes, it's questionable why Lee decided to buck its stereotype.

    On the other hand, Lee uses a fun variety of shooting and editing styles to always keep the story moving and make it constantly interesting. A shot that zooms in to a newspaper photo suddenly becomes the active scene itself, and while a warden talks about some parole officers who are to escort Jake, we see that scene as he talks. Much of the film is shot this way and it gives the picture a welcomed complexity over the standard issue, cookie cutter films that don't even attempt anything nearing ingenuity.

    It's the story and the resulting performances, however, that really make the film take off, but also ultimately cause a few momentum problems. On the positive side, and as stated earlier, the movie comes pre-loaded with a great deal of back story and thus we're thrust right into the middle of a story that's nearing its completion.

    The plot concept -- a convict father must convince his estranged son, now the most wanted high school basketball player in the country, to help him get out of prison early -- sounds like the typical "high concept" story so often used to sell scripts that often turn into boring or horrible films. While it is high concept -- meaning that one sentence can perfectly explain the film -- Lee adds so many layers of complexity to it that it reaches beyond its simple description.

    What really makes the movie fly is the tremendous performance from Academy Award winner Denzel Washington ("Glory," "Malcolm X"). This accomplished actor easily could have played his character as the good guy who was wrongly sent to prison and then sweet talks his way back into his estranged son's life. Instead, he creates a flawed and completely believable guy who made a tragic mistake in his life -- that ruined it and his relationship with his kids -- but who still wants to make sure his son does the right thing.

    While Jake is basically a likeable guy -- he feels compelled to help a wayward prostitute -- he has enough rough edges to make him real. Seeing him give his young son heavy doses of "tough love" in flashback as he pushes and teaches the boy to his limits, one identifies with Jake's hopes for his son, but also feels uncomfortable about the way he's going about it. Then, when the present day father and son play each other one last time, the effect is quite moving not only as a fitting culmination to the story, but also in how the father son relationship has evolved.

    Rookie professional basketball player Ray Allen makes his feature film acting debut as that son. While he does a good job, there are a few rough moments (such as when he and his younger sister discuss fame and fortune that comes off as awkward and quite wooden) that show his inexperience. Of course Lee even states that it was a risky move using a real ball player in the part, but the tradeoff of is that he got some fabulous and completely realistic basketball scenes.

    A bigger problem for Allen's performance, however, is that his character is under such pressure that he often comes off as unlikeable, a fact that doesn't help Allen, but that also hurts the story as we don't really root for this kid. In fact, Lee pushes the whole plot element dealing with Jesus and everybody trying to take advantage of him to such a hackneyed level that it nearly becomes ludicrous after a while. Although such moments obviously occur in real life as young talents are seen only as dollar figures to the movers and shakers in the sport, the fact that everyone here wants a piece of the action eventually becomes unrealistic.

    It also puts too much of a heavy dramatic emphasis on the decision that Jesus finally makes -- as if the world might end if he makes the wrong one (Let's see, do I pick a full athletic scholarship to college A, or university B, or do I just choose to make several million a year with the pros? Hmmm, decisions, decisions). While there is some dramatic weight to his dilemma -- about whether he'll ultimately help his dad or not -- the fact that we don't really care too much about him doesn't help.

    Another part of the film that feels forced and unnecessary is the whole element of Jake befriending Dakota, the wayward prostitute. Although it shows that Jake is a nice guy in wanting to help her (that eventually, however, is just a way for him to release some pent up sexual tension), the moments don't really do anything for the story and seem more like filler between scenes of Jesus visiting college campuses and meeting with agents.

    Then there's the sudden, but quite brief inclusion that Jesus got Lala pregnant in the past and that she had an abortion. Such moments are unnecessary and detract from the much more involving scenes featuring Jake trying to reconcile with his son. Surprisingly, though, Washington doesn't have as big a part as most people probably imagine (it's still considerable, but he's not the continual number one focus). When he's there, however, the movie really takes off.

    A scene where he embraces his wife's headstone in a cemetery is moving, and there are a few subtly funny moments such as after his daughter mentions that she got an "A" in science for studying cells, he says that he's done that as well. And when a shoe store clerk sees the prison tracking collar on his leg, Jake comments that it's for his arthritis. The clerk responds that his brother has the same thing and that it must be going around Coney Island and Jake agrees that it's contagious.

    Although the film's split story -- Jake trying to make amends while Jesus deals with the pressure from everyone around him -- makes it more complex and interesting, the fact that it continually shifts back and forth ultimately diffuses any momentum either of the sides was building. The end result is that the film occasionally feels incoherent, which is too bad because it features so many brilliant moments and decent performances.

    While it's still quite a good film, one only wishes that Lee had omitted a few elements and tightened the script just a bit to avoid some of the melodramatic artifacts. Even so, it's certainly easy to watch and if anything, Lee deserves kudos for not ending it with the stereotypical championship basketball game that's decided with the last shot as time runs out. For that, Lee gets our heartfelt appreciation and his film, "He Got Game" gets a 7.5 out of 10.

    OUR WORD TO PARENTS:
    While the film starts out looking like a rather "clean" drama (other than some profanity as its "worst" material), it quickly adds in several sexual encounters, gun play, drug use, and other material that may make it questionable for all but the oldest of teens. Profanity is extreme with more than 60 "f" words and a wide assortment of others.

    We see several sexual encounters that contain lots of nudity, movement and some sexual sounds. Some brief moments where a friend warns Jesus of the pitfalls of success show some of that sexual content, but also the drug scenes and a brief instance with a man shooting at others (we don't see the results of that).

    Obviously, many people have bad attitudes as they try to take advantage of Jesus, and there are many tense family moments, especially considering that the father is in prison for killing his wife (mostly accidental) and the kids had to raise themselves. If you or someone in your family wishes to see this film, we suggest that you read through the scene listings to determine if it's appropriate or not.


    ALCOHOL OR DRUG USE
  • As a friend tells Jesus the pitfalls of success, we see images of a person shooting heroin, others smoking some sort of drug (crack?), and others drinking big bottles of malt liquor.
  • We see several scenes (in flashback and the present) where Jake drinks some sort of alcohol from a brown paper bag.
  • Students drink at a college party and we see a background character in another scene drink.
  • Jake and Dakota drink in a motel room.
  • BLOOD/GORE
  • We see some vomit hitting the street as Jake throws up from food poisoning (or something similar).
  • Dakota has a tiny, bloody mark on her lip (from being beaten).
  • We see a little bit of blood from a woman's nose after she's hit her head very hard.
  • DISRESPECTFUL/BAD ATTITUDE
  • Some viewers may not like the film showing people's reactions to Jesus and his name (he was named after another basketball player and not Jesus of Nazareth). We see a video clip that shows Jesus walking on water and a cover of a magazine that shows this basketball player crucified on a cross, and hear many playful comments on his name, "Jesus," "Oh Jesus," etc...
  • Some may see Jake and his attempts at training his son (in flashbacks) to have both as he pushes Jesus to the brink of his mental and physical capabilities (but does so to make his son tough and capable of becoming a star). Such moments eventually lead not only to his wife's partially accidental death, but also to the estrangement between father and son.
  • Jesus' uncle accuses him of holding out on them and states that the young man owes them (the aunt and uncle) for taking in Jesus and Mary, raising them, and spending lots of money to do so.
  • We see a flashback where the local kids pick on Jesus because of his name and hearing his mother yelling it out when calling him home.
  • Dakota's boyfriend/pimp has both as he abuses her both mentally and physically.
  • Dakota is a prostitute, so viewers may see her as having both.
  • Lala has both as not only does she expect to get something out of Jesus' future success ("Why shouldn't I get paid? Everybody else is."), but she cheats on him while acting like she's trying to help him.
  • Jesus' coach offers him ten thousand dollars in cash and we learn that he "loaned" him other amounts of money during his high school years (to get him better grades, etc...).
  • A sports agent tries to bribe Jesus into signing with the pros.
  • Many of the college coeds that we see are buxom, comely young women who throw themselves at Jesus and his basketball friend.
  • Despite having a girlfriend, Jesus has sex with two college coeds and then lies to Lala about that (of course she's already been seeing someone else, but he didn't know that).
  • We learn that Jesus and Lala agreed that she should have an abortion (it happened before the story begins) as he says that a baby would hurt his chance to go to college.
  • FRIGHTENING SCENES
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense to some viewers.
  • In a flashback scene, Jake grabs his young son after a dinner table argument and pushes him against the wall and later to the floor. Jake's wife then tries to stop him, but Jake takes her and pushes her across the kitchen where she hits her head and is knocked unconscious (from which she dies).
  • A prison guard nearly shoots an inmate for entering an "out of bounds" zone in the prison yards.
  • GUNS/WEAPONS
  • Handgun: As a friend tells Jesus the pitfalls of success, we see an imagined scene where a man pulls out a handgun and shoots at two people several times (but we don't see if they're wounded or killed).
  • Rifle: Carried by a prison guard and nearly used to shoot an inmate.
  • IMITATIVE BEHAVIOR
  • Phrases: "Blow job" (sexual), "Bitch" (said toward women, about women by both men and women, and used as a general disparaging term), "Nigger" (said by black people), "Dumb ass," "Nasty ass," "Scumbag," "Shut up," "Ho'" (whore), "Balls" (testicles), "Busting your balls," "Faggot," "Knuckleheads" and "Payback's a bitch."
  • JUMP SCENES
  • None.
  • MUSIC (SCARY/TENSE)
  • There's just a tiny bit of dramatically tense music in the movie.
  • MUSIC (INAPPROPRIATE)
  • Several songs repeatedly use the "f" word (as well as with "mother"), along with ass, damn, and nigger. (There could be more, but we couldn't understand some of the lyrics).
  • PROFANITY
  • At least 65 "f" words (15 used with "mother" and 8 used sexually), 39 "s" words, 13 slang terms for female genitals (the "p" word and "poontang"), 3 slang terms for male genitals (the "d" word), 1 slang term for breasts (the "t" word), 21 asses, 15 damns, 10 hells, and 2 uses each of "G-damn" and "Oh my God," 1 use each of "God" and "Oh God" and several uses of "Jesus" or "Oh Jesus" (used in connection with the main character's name) as exclamations.
  • SEX/NUDITY
  • Dakota asks Jake, "So you think f*cking me is going to help?" (nothing happens).
  • A woman's outfit shows some cleavage.
  • As a friend tells Jesus the pitfalls of success, we see very brief, but numerous images of nude women (bare breasts), sexual movement (a woman on top of a man, a guy behind a woman, etc...) and we hear some sexual sounds.
  • Jesus and Lala have sex in an amusement park ride and we see her sitting on his lap and note some movement and sounds (but no nudity).
  • We see bare breasts, lots of movement and hear lots of sounds (and unimpassioned sexual talk) as a man has sex with Dakota.
  • Jesus' college friend takes him to a dorm room on campus where we see two bare-breasted women waiting in bed for him (they're wearing tiny G-string like bottoms). In addition, on the wall we see some posters of nude or scantily clad women. We then see Jesus having sex with these two women and see many images of them bouncing up and down in sexual movement (and sexually moaning out his name), and see one of them with their head down in his lap (implying oral sex).
  • When Jake asks for more money from Spivey and Crudup, they comment on him being locked up in prison for many years without any sex, and then make some references to prison homosexuality.
  • We see some prostitutes working the street and hear a man ask, "How much for a blow job?"
  • We see Dakota in a skimpy bikini, her "work outfit."
  • Jake gets on top of Dakota on a motel bed (both are still clothed) and she wraps her legs around him. After some making out, he gets behind her (where we see most of her bare butt in her thong-like bottom) and starts rubbing against her and we hear him climax (he's still clothed).
  • Lala tells Jesus that college women will be "lined up....ready to suck your d*ck."
  • We see a mostly silhouetted flashback of Jesus and Lala having sex on the beach. We hear her say, "I just want to feel you inside me" and see her bare breasts and see her on top of him with movement.
  • SMOKING
  • Dakota smokes a few times as does her pimp/boyfriend, and some background characters smoke in other scenes.
  • TENSE FAMILY SCENES
  • Jesus wants nothing to do with his estranged father who's suddenly shown up in his life, and puts pressure on his sister to behave the same. Jake then tries to make amends with his son who is mostly unwilling to accept him back into his life.
  • We then see flashbacks to an earlier time when Jake pushes his son both mentally and physically, resulting in the boy not liking his father.
  • We also see a dinner table argument that results in Jake grabbing his son (and repeatedly pushing him against a wall) and then pushing his wife so hard that she hits her head and dies.
  • TOPICS TO TALK ABOUT
  • Parents who push their kids hard, hoping that they'll be a success, the family's meal ticket, or the success that they wished they had been.
  • The high pressure, high dollar, leech-like atmosphere surrounding the recruiting of young athletes.
  • VIOLENCE
  • We learn that Dakota's boyfriend/pimp routinely beats her, and we see a few scenes where he pushes, hits, and/or abuses her.
  • As a friend tells Jesus the pitfalls of success, we see a man pull out a handgun and shoot at two people several times (but we don't see if they're wounded or killed).
  • In a flashback scene, Jake grabs his young son after a dinner table argument and pushes him against the wall and later to the floor. Jake's wife then tries to stop him, but Jake takes her and pushes her across the kitchen where she hits her head and is knocked unconscious (from which she dies).
  • Lala's other boyfriend pushes Jake backwards, resulting in Jake hitting this guy in the throat and then punching him in the face.



  • Reviewed April 23, 1998

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