Spike Lee couldn't make a dull movie if he were ordered to with a gun pressed to his head. Here, he weaves his familiar mix of textured technical wizardry and poetic resonance into a subject he was born to film. From the dazzling slo-mo opening montage of black, white, rich and poor kids each spinning their solo hoop-and-ball artistry, it's clear that Lee is not only in love with the purity of the sport itself but also with the idea of basketball as a social leveller.
Thankfully, He Got Game is much more than a cloying, self-indulgent love-poem to a certain obsession. Lee uses the sport as leverage to present a blissfully unsentimental approach to themes and issues which have already been hackneyed to pieces by the ersatz emoting of mainstream Hollywood (morality, temptation, forgiveness, redemption, the father-son relationship).
We're treated to some sparky acting, rich and believable dialogue-driven characters, great music (Public Enemy are, naturally, in full effect) and no sign of any fluffed-up drama-go-round in line with the standard sports- movie paradigm (big game ending... crucial winner jostled through in the dying seconds...).
Washington, flitting seamlessly from paternal resolve to quiet desperation, is excellent, but Ray Allen - - guard for the Milwaukee Bucks back in the real world - - is fantastic. For authenticity's sake, Lee opted to cast a genuine basketball player and coach him in acting (rather than the other way around) and he manages to draw the desired effect in abundance. It's a flowing, naturalistic performance underscored with phenomenal ball skills.
John Turturro continues his reign as the cameo king, this time as a satanic college coach who tempts Jesus with an absurd, mocked-up mini-documentary of the sports prodigy's projected notable career, complete with walking-on-water sequence and Sports Illustrated `crucifixion' cover.
There's minor interference from a pointless sub-plot featuring Jovovich's hooker-with-a-heart, inspired to escape from her abusive pimp by Jake's tender tenacity. But, for Lee, this is a triumphant return to clipped, iconoclastic form which, despite the apparent sporty specifics, deserves to be seen by all.