The beginning of Crossover looks like a mash-up of McG’s underappreciated TV series Fastlane and Wayne Brady’s storied appearance on Chappelle’s Show. Playing a merciless hustler named Vaughn, Brady slices through Detroit streets en route to his latest venture, an underground basketball game where he sets up bets and winners ahead of time.
The man is slick, no doubt. His suit is sharp, his car shines, the cops are in his pocket, and his arena—an abandoned train station—appears to rise from the underworld, with trash barrels along the entranceway burning ominously. It’s the small time, baby. And Vaughn is king of his domain. At least that’s what he wants to show his sometimes girlfriend, Nikki (Kristen Wilson), flown out from L.A. to check her man’s moral and financial progress. A law firm partner who can decide when she takes a weekend off, she’s frankly bored by his move from sports agent to downtown game-rigger. As he leads her inside the train station, saying only, “I want to show you something,” she looks so utterly out of place that you can’t imagine what Vaughn might think will impress her.
And yet, inside, the action is impressive. While it’s nearly overpowered by too many whip pans and zoom-ins for athletic dribbles, slow-motion and crashing sounds for dunks, the game is fine to watch because the players are seriously skilled (these include real street ballers, including Phillip Champion). But then Vaughn opens his mouth again. When Nikki invites him to come “make and honest woman of” her back in L.A., he says he can’t “give up” all he’s amassed in Motor City. As Vaughn is most definitely not going to “cross over” in any way, the movie has to find another focus.
This focus is at least as ancient as Vaughn’s story. Two best friends since childhood, namely, Vaughn’s employee Tech (Anthony Mackie) and his boy Noah Cruise (Wesley Jonathan), must come of age and in the process, redefine their friendship and save one another’s necks. Tech’s feeling restless under Vaughn’s system: he’s plainly not making much money, as he’s got a day job at a sporting goods store (with Noah) and a side angle hustling street games (with a partner who also narrates the film, Up [Li’l J J]). Noah has plans: he’s got a scholarship to a school in L.A. (held up as a kind of mecca throughout the film), where he means to continue to medical school, as he understands, so wisely, that basketball is not a route to a solid future.
Such incipient wisdom does not translate to intelligent action during Crossover, however. For one thing, Noah is waylaid by his loyalty to Tech, who gets him involved in one of Vaughn’s games, and so jeopardizes Noah’s basketball scholarship. While Tech imagines that he’ll one day play ball in Europe (being too short and not talented enough fro the NBA), he figures a shirt term goal will be appearing in a television ad—for gear or a sports drink, it hardly matters. To this end, he and Noah go to L.A., where Noah will do “orientation” at school and Tech the ad shoot.
But first: the girls. Noah falls for super-sexy Vanessa (winner of the third season of America’s Next Top Model, and woefully unconvincing Eva Pigford) and Tech finds true love with the bodaciously blond-wigged, though slightly more demure Eboni (Alecia Fears) (anyone would look demure compared to Vanessa). The boys bring along the girls to sunny California, where they encounter some adversity and uncover lingering tensions. Wholly undeveloped and erratic, all these relationships—old and new—lurch from one dramatic confrontation to another, without much motivation or sense. Indeed, most of the movie’s “emotional” content is indicated by the muddy, canned soundtrack, which is to say, none of it is compelling. Except the ball games.
The question here is not why Wayne Brady took the gig (though you might wonder) or what Anthony Mackie has in mind for his career. The question is, how does such a contrived, uneven, and poorly conceived project get through development and on to production and release? You might imagine that at some point, someone noted the laughable dialogue and the pedestrian execution. Or even figured out that the basketball footage was the sole reason anyone might think about purchasing tickets. But there are so many other venues for seeing quality ball, street and otherwise. You’d think these other possibilities might have occurred to someone as well.