In "Blue Chips," a passionate and idealistic college basketball coach (Nick Nolte) experiences his first losing season, succumbs to bribing new recruits (including NBA star Shaquille O'Neal) for the next season, but discovers the emptiness of a victory reached through cheating. (Rated PG-13)
Young star-struck sports fans, wearing their backward baseball caps and X-Large T-shirts, came to this movie for two reasons and two reasons only: sports and stars.
They were only mildly disappointed. The problems? Too much boring story. Not enough detail in the basketball scenes.
"It was OK, but it was boring in the middle," said Jason Poulos, 10. "He just walks around talking to his wife," he said speaking of Nolte. "It needed more playing time." Moreover, he complained, "The camera too much moved around. You couldn't follow the ball that much."
Chris Howard, 12, said the camera motion made him dizzy. Even so, he saw the movie twice in three days.
For most, under-the-table recruiting was a new concept. But clearly, the kids did not fall for the film's conventional moral that this kind of recruiting is wrong, or as Nolte tells his players in the end: "The rules don't make much sense, but I believe in the rules."
Instead, they seemed to buy the argument of the sleazy suit who represented the wealthy alumni supporters of the bribery program: i.e., these talented athletes make a lot of money for the school, yet they get nothing in return, so why not give them something?
"I don't see why they shouldn't buy them," said Sean Mulvaney, 10. College basketball, he reasoned, is just like the NBA. "They're learning new things and making money for the colleges."
Added his friend Jason: "Why not give some to the players? They do it all."
Sure, it was wrong for Nolte to break the rules, but the rules are stupid. So, Jason said, "They should change the rules."
In the movie, one player gets $30,000 cash in a sports bag plus a new tractor for his farmer father to sign a letter of intent to play for the fictional Western University. Another gets a suburban home for his inner-city mother and her other children. O'Neal is offered the keys to a Lexus but refuses.
"I'm not saying they should get thirty grand," Jason said. "Maybe just 10%."
Sean's 9-year-old brother, Michael, said the movie taught him a lot about basketball. What he learned, he said, was "you just got to put your mind to it if you are going to play."
Maybe he saw a different movie. Maybe it was "Rudy."
But at least one boy said he appreciated the film precisely because it did not have a predictable and sappy moral. Like "Rudy."
"It's not like some other movies where it comes out to be a good ending," said Chris Carlton, 12. "It's like a true story." He was pretty sure the concluding subtitles, explaining how the characters ended up years later, were not really true. "But they could have been," he said.
Chris said he was surprised that O'Neal, who also markets himself as a rap singer, did not have a larger role.
"I thought it would be more about Shaq O'Neal. It was more about the coach," Chris said.
Most kids thought that O'Neal is better at acting than singing. But they agreed that he should probably keep his day job.
Patrick McCaffrey, 11, observed there was "a lot of cussing" in the movie on the part of the coaches. But hey, he said, he's used to it.
Personally, what I liked about the film was what the kids didn't like: all the boring talk--and the unconventional filming of the action, including mid-game strategy huddles. Nolte had me convinced he really was a tormented idealist, agonizing over his deal with the devil.
But one thing we agreed on hands down: It sure is a kick to watch Shaquille O'Neal slam-dunk.