Friday, February 22, 2013

Fast Break (1979)

Comedian Gabe Kaplan enjoyed such broad popularity as the star of the 1975-1979 sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter that he got a few shots at starring in movies, beginning with this mediocre basketball comedy. Kaplan is the picture’s weakest link, however, for while he does well delivering one-liners, his acting is pathetic—in some important scenes, it literally seems as if he’s reading dialogue that he’s never previously encountered from some off-camera cue card. In his defense, he’s much livelier whenever he appears to be ad-libbing, coming across as likeable and natural. But Kaplan was never meant to be a movie star, and a movie star is exactly what Fast Break needed to surmount the challenges of its formulaic script. Kaplan plays David Greene, a New York City deli manager who dreams of becoming a college basketball coach. He applies for jobs at every school imaginable, finally getting a bite from a tiny Nevada institution called Cadwallader University. In a sorta-funny negotiation scene between Greene and Cadwallader’s slippery president, Greene arranges a contract contingent upon beating top school Nevada State at the end of his first season. Greene then recruits three street-trained black players and travels to Nevada, where the players are admitted to the school as students despite poor academic records.  Each player has a reason for participating. Hustler (Harold Sylvester) is dodging an arrest warrant, Preacher (Michael Warren) is running from a shotgun wedding, and Swish (Mavis Washington) is a woman who’s dying for a chance to play professional ball—cue cross-dressing hilarity! (Or not.) The movie does an okay job of sketching these broad characters, and there’s some mild fun to be had once the black players start clashing with the lily-white Nevada community. Alas, it’s all very predictable, and even though supporting players including Sylvester and Warren have solid moments, the sum effect is middling.

Fast Break: FUNKY 

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