With a film about high school basketball players playing in an organized all-star game at New York’s famed Rucker Park, the target audience is relatively limited. For me, however, the premise of Gunnin' for That #1 Spot was ideal. Not only am I an avid basketball fan and a former high school basketball coach, but -- full disclosure here -- one of my former players was actually playing in the game (a fact I did not know until I saw the film). Yet, despite being the embodiment of its target audience, the film still missed the target badly.
Adam Yauch, a.k.a. MCA from the Beastie Boys, directs this look behind the scenes of the Elite 24 Basketball Camp and All-Star Game, visiting some of the newly drafted stars, like Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, and Jarred Bayless. These 24 athletes were invited to play because they are rated so highly by scouts at the high school and even middle school level. Indeed, during interviews with some of these scouts, the film suggests that players are being scouted at increasingly younger ages. What's unclear, however, is whether this is meant to be good or bad -- Yauch seems to want us to believe it is bad, but he stops short from ever refining his point or making any ideas explicit.
And that's just the tip of the film's problems. Perhaps the most frustrating one is Yauch’s direction. Like a very bad scene from CSI: Miami, Yauch is obsessed with slow-motion and rewinding shots, repeating them over and over until it is actually painful to watch. These incredible athletes are playing an exciting, highly competitive game, yet Yauch absolutely squeezes the life out of it, one replay after another. Elsewhere, Yauch intersperses interviews with scenes from these players in their high school days. The clips look just like you would expect: poorly generated high school audio-visual club material, only serving to taint the film's style. And adding even more damage, the players are never really distinguished from one another, each seeming to be ‘good guys’ who work hard and who have done well for themselves in the neighborhood.
Essentially Gunnin' for That #1 Spot fails to explain what it is about and thus fails to justify its existence. While the players are rated by different scouting organizations, there is no indication that any of the players even care about these ratings, let alone being number one. The film has nothing to do with gunnin' for a number one anything; instead, it is a film about an interesting basketball game in a historic park with highly talented young athletes. If Yauch had been more decisive about what kind of documentary he was going to make and kept his hands off the rewind button, it could have been a worthwhile film. As it stands, watching these players in college and in the NBA is much better use of time.