Director: Jennifer Harper Cinematographer: Robert Morris
If there’s one thing about America that excites me more than anything, then it’s the NBA. I’ve long admired the remarkable skill of god-like giant basketball stars like Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neil and been fascinated by the level of superstardom they seemingly enjoy. Although, after watching the film Playa’s Ball, (a drama/comedy made in the first half of the noughties and set for a new release on On Demand platforms), I’m reminded of the huge level of scrutiny that comes with being a top level professional athlete.
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The film’s title refers to the party held during NBA All-Star week that attracts many stars of professional sports and hip-hop music. It follows, primarily, professional basketball player Cedric Tinsley (Allen Payne, pictured below), who is living in an unhealthy celebrity bubble where money is on tap and everyone he meets (attractive women, fellow players and fans) are constantly stroking his ever growing ego. However, while on the verge of signing a multi-million dollar endorsement deal and proposing to his model girlfriend, he’s hit with a paternity suit from a woman (Jordana Spiro) he declares he’s never met. Add to this a family tragedy, and Tinsley finds his personal and professional life veering out of control as he battles to clear his name.
It’s a well known tale, a top sport’s star has his reputation ruined by claims of sexual impropriety. It was certainly an issue for the late NBA star Kobe Bryant, who in 2003 was facing a charge of sexual assault, and was reportedly the inspiration for Allen Payne’s fictitious character even before the real life case emerged. Bryant suffered a massive decline in terms of his reputation and public perception and had several huge endorsement contracts terminated.
So was the film’s producer and financier, Dale Davis (at the time an NBA player himself), attempting to cash in on Bryant’s fall from grace? It appears both he and the production’s writer and first-time director, Jennifer Harper certainly recognized that the timing couldn’t have worked better as the film had just recently finished pre-production when Bryant was arrested. However, Davis stated at the time that he was not looking to gain publicity out of Bryant’s situation.
- Allen Payne as Cedric Tinsley, a ball player trying to go from rags to riches
- Elise Neal as Summer Twitty, Cedric’s publicist
- Anthony ‘Treach’ Criss as Ricardo Perez, Summer’s boyfriend
- Chelsi Smith as Jill Hamlin, Cedric’s girlfriend
- Jordana Spiro as Tonya Jenkins, mother of Cedric’s purported child
- Antony C. Hall as Lloyd Harrison, Cedric’s best friend
- Tasha Smith as Vonda, Cedric’s sister
- Tracey Cherelle Jones as Natasha, Summer’s cousin
- MC Lyte as Laquinta, Natasha’s best friend
- Gary “G-Thang” Johnson as Hakim, a chef at Cedric’s favorite restaurant
- Jackie Long as Georgie, another chef at Cedric’s favorite restaurant
- David Brown as Mookie, Cedric’s second best friend
- Matthew Hatchette as Nick, Cedric’s third best friend
- Pamella D’Pella as Kennedy, the bartender
- Judge Joe Brown as himself
- Malik Yoba as himself
- Paula Jai Parker as herself
- Derek Anderson as himself
- Scottie Pippen as himself
- Dale Davis as himself
Where fiction and reality really start to mirror each other, is when the hero of Davis’s production also faces potential rape charges. Although, unlike Bryant, Tinsley is faced with a positive DNA test and he’s in real trouble unless he agrees to a large out of court settlement. Bryant, who even gets an amusing mention in the film, also went onto settle his legal matters privately. Looking for further authenticity the filmmakers include some all-star camoes in the shape of basketball heroes Scottie Pippen and Derek Anderson.
Overall, the film struggles to escape the constraints of a low budget and the inexperienced director, but for basketball fans it remains a watchable affair with a believable central performance from Payne (who had previous experience in films such as New Jack City and The Perfect Storm). The narrative even includes a surprise, if slightly bizarre, twist, although the love triangle at the forefront of the drama (which does include some reasonable chemistry) is predictable enough that most viewers will quickly work out which characters are on route to a happy ending. Hidden away between the posturing, misogyny and musical interludes there may even be a well-intentioned message about the exploitation of elite athletes, but surprisingly it’s the amusing humour, bordering on satire, that makes the biggest impression.
TriCoast Entertainment will digitally release ‘Playa’s Ball’ on VOD platforms on the 8th December 2020 (Amazon, Fandango, FlixFling, Vimeo on Demand & Vudu).
Directed by Jennifer Harper
Produced by Dale Davis, Jeff Clanagan, Kimberly Ogletree
Screenplay by Jennifer Harper, Dale Davis
Music by Eddie “Debongo” Ricketts, Bruce Sterling
Cinematography Robert Morris
Edited by David Flores, Debra Moore
Running time 88 minutes
Country United States