The catchy slogan of a giant toy corporation used to be "I don't want to grow up, I'm a Toys 'R Us kid." The notion, of course, was that the store had so many toys no kid in their right mind would have time let alone the motivation to become an adult and thus give up all of that fun. The reality, however, is that most kids do want to grow up as they see any number of advantages of doing so.
That's particularly true for those who are fans of famous adults where the kid imagines what his or her life would be like if they had the same abilities, fame and fortune of their idols. And many kids focus such fantasies on star athletes not only due to those aforementioned perks, but also because they use their physical prowess to best or defeat others, a power play many preteens and adolescents would love to possess.
For 16-year-old Brian Newell it isn't so much a domination fantasy, but rather a desire to be able to play basketball like his favorite NBA star, Kevin Durant. After all, the 6'9" forward plays with the Oklahoma City Thunder, is a 3-time NBA scoring champion and a member of the Gold-winning 2012 London Olympics team. But little does he know he's about to end up in one of Hollywood's long-running plot conventions, the body swap story.
That's where people magically switch places with others, either physically between bodies (the "Freaky Friday" movies) or in older or younger versions of themselves ("Big," "13 Going on 30"). In "Thunderstruck," it doesn't even go that far as the simple simultaneous holding of a basketball between the teen (Taylor Gray making his lead debut) and the real-life Durant transfers the basketball talent of the latter to the former. Suddenly, the NBA star can't sink a layup to save his life, much to the horror of his agent (Brandon T. Jackson) while the high school student abruptly becomes the star of his team (coached by James Belushi), manages to upstate his rival (Spencer Daniels), and garner the attention of the new and quite cute girl (Tristin Mays) at school.
As directed by John Whitesell ("Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son," "Deck the Halls") from a script by Eric Champnella and Jeff Farley, the dramedy doesn't stray far from the usual formula. Younger kids who've never experienced this sort of storyline might find it fun and/or funny (especially seeing Durant have to pretend to be awful at basketball), but older ones and especially adults might wish they could do their own body swap and end up as someone else in another theater watching a different film.
Not even considering the lame talent switcheroo moment -- c'mon, just holding the ball does the trick without any lightning, witch's curse or even the always reliable Zoltar Fortune Teller Machine? -- there isn't much in the way of imagination at play on this cinematic court. The kid goes through the usual character arc (klutz to shocked possessor of special talent to ego-driven star who forgets the little people to someone who realizes the error of his ways), while the star simply goes into a scoring slump. Why not have him get pimples and other teen angst producing issues as well?
Some viewers will see some similarities between this and "Like Mike," the 2006 comedy where Lil Bow Wow played a boy who got his hands on (and feet in) some old Michael Jordan sneakers and magically became a basketball star. While that film was also about as formulaic and predictable as they come, it had a certain charm to it as did its young star who made it fairly easy to watch.
Gray doesn't manage to match his predecessor in that department, but is okay in the role. Durant has the tough job of playing himself (which is much, much harder than it sounds) and mostly takes a conservative (and even tentative at times) approach to that. Belushi, meanwhile, plays a coach who's always bragging about his past "fame" on the court in a running gag that gets older and older with each repeat occurrence.
Younger kids who idolize Durant, love basketball and/or fantasize about growing up to be a star might enjoy what's offered here. But for everyone else, what should have otherwise been an easy layup of a film bounces off the backboard and rim, and misses its shot at being something special. "Thunderstruck" rates as a 4 out of 10.