Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I suppose one the great things about movies, if you can call it great, are filmmakers absolute refusal to cast actual high schoolers as high school students.  In some sense it sucks I guess watching a fifty year old Luke Perry play a high school student in ‘Beverly Hills 90210’, but to the converse it never sucks to watch say Gabrielle Union and the rest of the cast of ‘Bring it On’, most in their late twenties at the time, well into their thirties now, jump around in cheerleader outfits.  No guilt there.  Or say watching Rosario Dawson in a schoolgirl outfit and smoking a cigarette in ‘The 25th Hour’, looking tasty enough to make any Japanese schoolgirl fetishist cry.  This leads us to Don Abernanthy’s story ‘based on true events’, ‘Tournament of Dreams’ which while severely coming up short in production values which was unable to hide its low budget roots, it is a film that still had its heart in the right place and starred a bunch of very good looking women in their late twenties and early thirties playing high school students.  Not a drop of guilt to be found anywhere in sight.

The now legendary Tony Todd plays Isaiah Kennedy, a director at the local gym in our tough inner city who is recruited by Darnel (Carl Lewis), a security guard for the local High School to coach the girls basketball team.  It seems that despite the pleas of school principle Rhonda Dillans (Debbie Allen), the school board is going to cut this vital program unless she can somehow prove that it is necessary.  Isaiah at first declines the offer, but due to the pleadings of his barely 5 foot basketball phenom daughter Pam (for real), who goes by the moniker of Two-two (Shakira Bryant), which corresponds to her jersey number, Isaiah takes the job and proceeds the daunting task of whipping his Lady Cavaliers into shape.

It’s not going to be easy because these thirty year old teenage girls have issues.  Shuga (Robin Wilson), is trying to deal with her parents impending divorce, Boo-Baby (Keana Jackson) is caught up with a gang led by brutal gang leader Troy

(The Game), Slick (Rae’Ven Larrymore Kelly) is a bit of lesbian who cares more about her burgeoning hip-hop career than the Lady Cavaliers, Kiwi (Latrice Harper) is trying to come to terms with her mother marrying a white man, Two-two is dealing with the pressures of teenage sex and then there’s Capricorn (Joyful Drake) who issues we’re not even going to touch.  Despite his trials and tribulations, Coach Isaiah makes his Lady Cavaliers contenders who manage to rely on each other through the thick and the thin, until something happens which shakes the team and its coach to the very core, threatening to destroy everything they’ve accomplished to this point and risking our opportunity to have a last second shot in a championship game while the clock ticks down to triple zero.

As I stated earlier, ‘Tournament of Dreams’ certainly lacks the polish and gloss that we have come to expect from the movies that we watch.  There are audio issues that you tend to see in super low budget films, where the background noise isn’t normalized and changes from scene to scene.  The editing, in a word, is a bit loose and there are framing and staging issues running rampant throughout the film.  There are also some rather insane lapses in logic in the narrative which had me scratching my head.  For instance, after a win our coach throws a rather wild party at his house for his girls, which seems crazy, and considering the way the girls were dancing the only thing they were missing were the poles.  Crazier still is that just above his head his daughter is in her bedroom about to get on down with her boyfriend.  I’m not saying I could keep my daughter from having sex, if I had a daughter that is, but it isn’t happening at some krazy house party that I just sponsored, that’s for damn sure.  There’s one more insane plot point that’s totally crazy, but that's a big time spoiler so I won’t give it away.  Also since there were so many girls with so many issues, the story spreads itself a bit thin over its brief 88 minutes.

But despite the flaws of this film, and there were many, it was still entertaining largely due to Tony Todd yet again bringing his A-game to another low budget production as only he can do.  The rest of the cast, such as Debbie Allen as the principle and the litany of post high school beauties doing able work also helps save what could have been a pretty bad film.  Shakira Bryant was probably the weakest actress, but this was obviously because she was overwhelmingly the best basketball player of the cast.  Girlfriend seriously packs a lot of game in her tiny frame.  The basketball on the whole wasn’t too bad either as Abernathy manages to hide his actresses of suspect skills behind the girls who could actually play and does a good job at it, plus it looked as if they were actually playing a game as opposed to just having staged basketball scenes.

How you ultimately feel about this film will be determined by if you can overlook the low budget look and feel of it and see past its flaws.  If you can do that, then its positive message and high energy will give you a good movie viewing experience, if not, then you will be highly disappointed.  It wasn’t easy, but I was able to get past its flaws and found ‘Tournament of Dreams’ worth my time.  I should also mention that my eleven-year-old son chose Robin Wilson as the Hot Girl in this film as I probably would have given it to Joyful Drake.  But I’m just happy the boy is looking at girls.

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