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Shooting His Shot

Boogie and Bad Trip



BOOGIE. Eddie Huang remains always on his hustle. The child of a sometimes troubled but ultimately fruitful marriage of immigrant entrepreneurs (Chinese by way of Taiwan), he grew up in the restaurant business, went on to a successful academic career, became a lawyer, lost that gig, started a clothing line, allegedly sold weed, opened a well-regarded restaurant (now permanently closed) and a less well-regarded one (also closed), wrote a memoir that became a successful TV sitcom (Fresh Off the Boat), distanced himself from the series for creative differences and has now written and directed a loosely autobiographical movie. I'm told he also maintains a formidable social media presence, among other ventures. So busy!

It would not necessarily be obtuse to ask what, if any, qualifications Huang might have to write and direct a feature with major distribution, even one with a modest budget and no major stars in the cast. But that should be seen as a good thing, even if the movie isn't all that great (which it isn't). Boogie was announced (and presumably shot) pre-plague but it should be counted among the modest projects — a comforting number of which speak with previously woefully unheard voices — that have risen to prominence in the last year. This has been, of course, largely a product of the tent-poles taking a breather until they can reap their accustomed profits in theaters. But their absence also serves to highlight the fact that these movies are being made at all, let alone released (either in theaters or via streaming services) to audiences at large. For an old-timer like me, it harkens back to the indie-boom (he typed wistfully) of the 1990s and even the new Hollywood of the late '60s and '70s. Sure, technology has made these projects less financially risky, but even 10 years ago (five?) would a movie like this have been given a shot? Seems doubtful.

All of which is to say I support Huang's efforts and his movie, even if I cannot fully recommend it. While technically proficient, with its own faintly sterilized aesthetic and version of New York City in place, it plays like a first effort, which I don't intend as a damning criticism. It just may not be, like its protagonist, ready for the big show.

That protagonist, Alfred "Boogie" Chin (Taylor Takahashi), is an NYC basketball phenom. His father (Perry Yung), recently a guest of the state, has focused his energies on securing Alfred a college scholarship and a chance at the NBA. In service of that goal, Alfred has transferred to a prep school with a basketball program that, while struggling, will put him up against some of the other biggest talents in the city and, hopefully, attract the attention of Division-I scouts. Mrs. Chin (Pamelyn Chee), frustrated by her husband's disregard for the family's more immediate needs, simultaneously pursues other avenues for her son. Boogie, meanwhile, contends with the vagaries of new love, reining in his ego and the tumult at home.

All of which is well and good, fertile enough ground from which a compelling story might grow. But Boogie suffers from both immaturity and growing pains: Some of the actors, while raw and capable, clearly need a director who knows how to help them act for a camera. The lack of experience on both sides only serves to magnify the small discomforts and lapses in timing of people visibly acting. Narratively, Huang seems to want to combine the verisimilitude of the NYC street movies, by which he was clearly influenced, with a sort of numbed accessibility. The intent is admirable but he hasn't adequately mastered the form to bring it to life on screen, which could also be said for the basketball sequences; promise abounds, but the maker has yet to embrace smallness and silence in service of tension and depth. R. 89M. STREAMING.

BAD TRIP. No. 1 on the Netflix Top 10 doesn't mean much, quantifiably. It would suggest, however, whatever takes that spot is being seen by people — like a lot of people. And so we have to assume millions (maybe?) of us watched Bad Trip. I say us because I certainly did and it made me laugh.

One would think (as I did) the Jackass road movie formula had come and gone, but in the hands of Eric André — whose confrontational comedy I call borderline psychedelic in a restricted-breath, reality-is-terrifying, trust-no-one kind of way — it takes on new life.

Chris (André) and his best friend Bud (Lil Rel Howery) set off on a road-trip to New York from Florida, leaving behind dead-end jobs so Chris can profess his love to high school crush Maria (Michaela Conlin). They are pursued by Bud's feloniously inclined sister Trina (Tiffany Haddish), recently escaped from prison, whose car they have borrowed without asking. The hook, though, is that this storyline plays against the backdrop of innocent bystanders made participants in a series of (sometimes admittedly disgusting and low-brow) pranks. Somehow it works. R. 84M. NETFLIX.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

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