Review: The adventures of young LeBron James prove stubbornly undramatic in ‘Shooting Stars’

Mookie Cook, left, as LeBron James, with Caleb McLaughlin in the movie "Shooting Stars."
(Oluwaseye Olusa / Universal Pictures)

‘Shooting Stars’

The sports drama “Shooting Stars” is set in and around Akron, Ohio, in the early 2000s, an era when the Catholic high school St. Vincent–St. Mary dominated in basketball, setting records and making national headlines. The secret to their success becomes clear early in the film, when their coach (played by Dermot Mulroney) looks down at the group of freshmen sitting on his bench and says, “LeBron, you’re in the game.”

“Shooting Stars” is based on the book of the same name, co-written by LeBron James and Buzz Bissinger, which covers the phenomenal four-year run of a team led by four super-tight childhood friends: James (Marquis “Mookie” Cook), Lil’ Dru Joyce (Caleb McLaughlin), Willie McGee (Avery S. Wills) and Sian Cotton (Khalil Everage). To stay together, the group rejected the local public school to attend a private school with a majority white student body. That controversial choice — combined with some raised eyebrows over the media attention and the promises of big money swirling around James — complicated their achievements.

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Director Chris Robinson and a team of screenwriters struggle to turn those complications into an exciting story. Because St. Vincent–St. Mary was such a juggernaut, the movie’s more melodramatic moments — like a coach taking another job, or James being investigated by the Ohio High School Athletic Assn. — feel overwrought. It’s not easy to muster concern for a team that wins nearly every game.

What works better are the scenes of James and his friends just being kids together: playing video games, crashing parties, eating junk food and ragging on each other. The idea behind this film is to celebrate James’ first and best teammates. In the real world, what they achieved as a basketball team was remarkable. But dramatized? On the screen? It’s stubbornly undramatic.

‘Shooting Stars.’ Rated PG-13 for strong language, some suggestive references and teen drinking. 1 hour, 56 minutes. Available on Peacock

‘Follow Her’

Dani Barker wrote the script for and stars in “Follow Her,” a mostly creative riff on 1980s-style erotic thrillers that unfortunately never settles on one central idea. Barker plays Jess Peters, a minor social media star whose schtick involves taking sketchy-sounding jobs she finds online and then secretly filming the employer. Jess finds herself in danger when she answers an ad from Tom Brady (Luke Cook), a hunky young man looking for someone to help him finish his movie script about a perverted killer … by acting it out with him in his remote farmhouse.

Director Sylvia Caminer keeps the pace taut and gets good performances from the two leads; and the whole “Is Jess really in trouble or is this just improv?” premise sustains a tense half-hour stretch in the middle of the film, when Jess and Tom seem to be trying to alternately seduce or murder each other. But there’s a lot of “day in the life of Jess” run-up before we get to that point; and then the attempt to tie everything together in the final act feels both forced and overly moralistic. There are really two movies happening here: one, a cat-and-mouse game between two manipulative schemers; and another that skewers self-involved, “anything for a click” influencers. Both have their merits; but they don’t mesh well.

‘Follow Her.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 32 minutes. Available on VOD; also playing theatrically, Laemmle Monica, Santa Monica

Robbie Amell in the movie "Simulant."


Robbie Amell heads an ace cast in “Simulant,” a science-fiction drama touching on some of the same themes as movies such as “A.I.” and “Blade Runner.” Amell plays Evan, an android simulation of someone recently deceased. The new Evan has been filled with the old Evan’s memories by his wife Faye (Jordana Brewster); and he has been unshackled from government regulations by the hacker Casey (Simu Liu), much to the chagrin of a grizzled technology cop named Kessler (Sam Worthington).

Director April Mullen and screenwriter Ryan Christopher Churchill keep their story in a quiet, character-driven place rather than going big-picture with the plot and locations — which makes sense, given that this movie doesn’t have the budget for large-scale action sequences, splashy special effects or futuristic set-design. But despite all the familiar faces, “Simulant” still feels too bare-bones. It asks some pretty remedial questions about freedom and humanity; and it is ultimately too tasteful and earnest to get pulses pounding and minds racing.

‘Simulant.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 35 minutes. Available on VOD

Also on VOD

“Esme, My Love” is a moody and intentionally opaque drama about a frazzled woman named Hannah (Stacey Weckstein) who takes her daughter Esme (Audrey Grace Marshall) into the wilderness for mysterious reasons, prompted by Esme’s failing health and an old family tragedy. Writer-director Cory Choy and co-writer Laura Allen don’t offer a lot of definitive answers about what’s really happening here; instead they use the premise as a foundation for a series of beautifully shot vignettes, following two troubled souls as they connect with nature and each other. Available on VOD