Based on the 2009 book by Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Buzz Bissinger (“Friday Night Lights”) and nicely directed by Chris Robinson (“Woke”), “Shooting Stars” is the 1990s-set coming-of-age story of James and his “Fab Four” crew of fellow basketball enthusiasts with whom he played and grew up in Akron, Ohio.
When we meet James (Marquis “Mookie” Cook, making his debut) and his closest friends and surrogate brothers Lil Dru (Caleb McLaughlin, “Stranger Things”), Willy McGee (Avery S. Willis Jr, “Swagger”) and Sian Cotton (Khalil Everage, “Cobra Kai”), they are together in the basement of Lil Dru’s house, which he shares with his father Dru Joyce (an excellent Wood Harris), a sometime basketball coach and mother Carolyn (Diane Howard). LeBron lives with his single mother Gloria James (Natalie Paul), who is an enormous influence on him and who will work as many shifts as possible to keep a roof over their heads. When the local public school coach tries to separate the four by making the short-of-stature Lil Dru play for the junior varsity team, they decide to switch schools and play for the “Fighting Irish” of the local Catholic school, St. Vincent-St. Mary. At St. Vincent-St. Mary, where African Americans are few, the young men meet Coach Keith Dambrot (Dermot Mulroney), a failed college coach, who recognizes their tremendous potential and LeBron’s greatness.
“Shooting Stars,” which was adapted by Frank E. Flowers, Tony Rettenmaier and Juel Taylor (“Creed II”) with James as an executive producer, is not winning any awards for originality. A “Nutty Professor” poster is on the wall of the basement where the players hang out. Someone makes a Carlton of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” joke. When they aren’t outside playing basketball, the boys are inside playing basketball video games. But it is amusing to see the St. Vincent-St. Mary “Fighting Irish” mascot, a leprechaun on the court, with our protagonists, or to hear bagpipes and Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” used to accentuate the accomplishments of the “Fab Four.”
Beginning with their freshman year, the “Fab Four” lead St. Vincent-St. Mary to championships. Soon, Sports Illustrated is printing features about “high-school phenom” James. He meets classmate Savannah (Katlin Nichol). He takes her to the local Outback, where the car he borrowed won’t start afterward. The moral of “Shooting Stars” is that sometimes high school friendships turn into lifelong sources of happiness, camaraderie and solace. St. Vincent becomes the number one high school basketball team in the country. After a scandal involving a vintage jersey given to LeBron by a fan, James is suspended for a few games. Will his friends step up to win without him?
James will be tempted to sample the excesses of superstardom. We see a young man’s bed surrounded by boxes of shoes. His bedroom walls plastered with posters. As his best friends get better as players, Willy sadly observes that he has “stayed the same.” Will Lil Dru ever lose the chip on his shoulder?
As the hotheaded “fifth” member of the Fab Four, newcomer Sterling “Scoot” Henderson is impressive. Universal is not giving “Shooting Stars” a theatrical run. While the film is no blockbuster, this is a mistake. LeBron James is a genuine, real-life superhero, and Cook is very sympathetic in the role. Paul is just as good as his mother and “rock.” The young actors have charisma, screen presence and chemistry. For crying out loud, they even got game. What more do you want, bagpipes?
MPA rating: PG-13 (for strong language, some suggestive references and teen drinking)
Running time: 1:56
How to watch: Peacock