We all know LeBron James, for better or for worse. Known as everything from a charismatic NBA legend and “Trainwreck” scene-stealer, to “Space Jam: A New Legacy” cringe-inducing lead and YA author, the multi-hyphenate mogul’s own entertainment empire is now behind Peacock Original film “Shooting Stars,” which aims to capture his own high school years.
Based on the book of the same name that James penned with “Friday Night Lives” author Buzz Bissinger, “Shooting Stars” centers on James’ own teen experience with his “Fab Four” friend group in Ohio. Billed as the “original story of the basketball superhero,” the ode to James is laid on thick thanks to a cliched script by Frank E. Flowers, Tony Rettenmaier, and Juel Taylor. But if you’re a die-hard James fan, and have a high tolerance for self-congratulatory films, “Shooting Stars” might be worth the almost two hours of your time.
Real-life Oregon Ducks college player Marquis “Mookie” Cook deftly makes his screen debut playing a teenaged James in the film, who switches high schools after one of his best friends, Lil Dru (Caleb McLaughlin of “Stranger Things” fame), doesn’t make the varsity basketball team. Along with the rest of their foursome, rounded out by Willie McGee (Avery S. Wills) and Sian Cotton (Khalil Everage), the pals transfer to a predominantly white Catholic high school to play together on the same team again.
Meanwhile, their new coach (Dermot Mulroney) is looking for career redemption after being demoted from a college gig and the Fab Four must also pivot to being teammates with former rival Romeo Travis (Sterling “Scoot” Henderson) while their local community deems them “sellouts” for leaving their school behind. “The Wire” alum Wood Harris plays assistant Coach Dru, who is also the dad of Lil Dru.
The expected highlight of a film about basketball, specifically one of the greatest basketball players of all-time, and starring actual basketball players, would likely be amazing basketball sequences. Nope. Instead, the film is shot similarly to the disorienting (and laughable) action scenes in “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” thanks to director Chris Robinson’s approach. Add in Mulroney telling his team to “Go home and eat your Wheaties” and the film misses the mark on camp and teeters on terrible.
Mulroney is in his own miscast world, complete with a curly wig he must have borrowed from Ben Affleck after “Air” wrapped production. His performance would be entertaining in a film that wasn’t trying to be so serious; but then again, “Shooting Stars” has poorly paced slo-mo and an Ice Cube “It Was a Good Day” needle drop that is so out of place it borders on a fever dream.
This isn’t entirely a narrative work, either. Rather, we’re watching a commercial to buy into James’ lore. When his high school girlfriend (and future wife) asks James, “Are you going to be famous now?” after the team wins the 2001 Ohio state championship, it’s a clunky nod to what we all know is to come. James won’t just become famous, he’ll became an international superstar. And the real-life James won’t let us forget that either.
“He made it to the NBA…where word is he did OK,” the final caption reads once the credits roll, giving us updates on all of the real-life counterparts of the film. With James’ Springhill Company behind the movie, we only see the sweet friendships, the glory of victory, and of course, James’ iconic celebrity. Too bad a lay-up of a biography isn’t interesting at all.
“Shooting Stars” starts streaming on Friday, June 2 on Peacock.