LeBron. Kobe. Magic. Michael.
No, no, not that Michael, the guy who took the Chicago Bulls to six world championships and still has his own line of bestselling shoes. We're talking about Michael Diggs, who could've been as good as any of 'em.
What? Never heard of him? Why, he was an All-American for the University of Southern California. He averaged 28 points a game. He was a surefire No. 1 pick in the National Basketball Association—something His Airness didn't even manage.
Not that he ever had a chance to claim that honor, not after he was thrown in prison for either armed robbery or being an accomplice to murder (depending upon who's talking about it). But there's no uncertainty regarding how long he was sent away: six years. Michael Diggs never had a chance to be a draft bust; he was busted before he was even drafted.
But now Michael's done dribbling his life away. Sure, the prison stint might've stolen six years of his life. Yes, his NBA dreams might be gone. And, yeah, the job market can be tough for ex-felons.
But his mother still believes in him—his poor, sick, constantly coughing mother …
And his little brother still looks up to Michael. Or he would, if he wasn't hanging out with all those gang members all the time …
At least he can count on Lisa, his beautiful former fiancée, right? No, wait, she left him for another guy ...
If nothing else, he can still hang out with his longtime best friend and current NBA star Craig. But wait! Now he's Lisa's other guy!
Whoa. A lot can change in six years. Turns out, Michael's whole life imploded while he was away. He has no job, no prospects, no friends, no fiancée, no nothing.
Just one thing to do, then. Go to the local basketball court and blow off some steam. Maybe his future was taken away from Michael in the slammer. But the guy still knows how to do a little slamming himself.
Michael, Slamma Jamma tells us, wasn't ever a bad guy. Maybe just a little naïve. One night, a gang member comes and tells Michael he can earn a cool grand if he just introduces himself to a local gun store owner. Next thing Michael knows—through no fault of his own—the gun store owner's dead, and Michael's in court.
But no matter: Even if Michael is fairly blameless, he's still determined to make up for his past non-sins by being an even better person. He works menial jobs. He donates his time to fix up an old, broken-down church. He tells his sick mom that he'll take care of her. And when she suffers a stroke, he hands over all the money he has in the world to make sure she gets a private room. He's determined to pry his brother, Taye, away from the grips of a local, nefarious gang of gun runners. "My life means nothing if you go down the same path!" Michael tells Taye.
Despite his tough circumstances, Michael does get a little help along the way. Ex-girlfriend Lisa still likes Michael plenty, and she makes a healthy donation to help Michael's church get on its metaphorical feet. The congregation's pastor, John Soul, encourages Michael to be a role model. A kindly restaurant owner hires Michael to bus tables, even though he doesn't really need the help. In addition, Michael makes new friends at the basketball court—Jerome and Brandon—who help Michael train for a prestigious slam dunk competition.
When Michael is first sent away to prison (which we see in flashback), he doesn't take it very well. When Lisa tells a sobbing Michael after sentencing that he needs to have faith, he snaps at her. "What faith?" He asks. "There is no God! God wouldn't do this to me!"
But Michael becomes a new man in prison. And it's all because he finds God.
We see that faith manifested in many ways, from a quiet prayer before dinner to his work with a dilapidated church. Michael even preaches one Sunday, talking about his life and drawing comparisons with the story of Joseph.
His girlfriend is suspicious. "Everybody finds God in prison," she says. Michael's former would-be agent, Terrell, is skeptical, too. When someone asks him if he believes in God, Terrell holds up a $100 bill. "That's my god," he says, "and I praise him every day."
Michael's mother is thrilled, though. She's a devout believer, and she tells him she prayed for him regularly while he was in prison.
Still, Michael's circumstances make faith tough. As he struggles to find his financial footing—losing his first job because he's a felon—he prays all the harder. Some mock Michael openly for his belief. A tough gang leader tells him that Michael should work for him, not God: "God can't save you, because He doesn't exist. But I do," he says. And when Michael's mother becomes gravely ill, we see him weeping in church, begging God not to take his mom.
[Spoiler Warning] God doesn't answer Michael's prayer: His mother slips away in the hospital, but not before she assures Michael that she'll see him again. He mourns as a simple, wordless version of the hymn "Great is Thy Faithfulness" plays in the background. At the funeral, Michael echoes her promise: He will see her again, he tells the gathered mourners.
Several basketball players wear shirts that reference Christianity. Michael has a tattoo of a cross, over which a crown hovers. One slam dunk contestant tells another, "God bless you."
Lisa wears short skirts on occasion. She eventually breaks up with Craig and renews her serious relationship with Michael. But when he asks her to kiss him on the basketball court, she refuses: His face is too sweaty, she tells him.
Bikini-clad women hang out in the background at a slam dunk contest on a beach. We hear the phrase "hot and bothered."
A man is apparently shot to death during Michael's "armed robbery" flashback (though he was neither armed nor robbing anyone). The actual killing takes place off-camera though. The only thing we see is the killer pulling the trigger.
Michael's mother collapses on a basketball court. Again, we only see her unconscious body after that collapse takes place.
A great many gang members tote around a great many guns, sometimes pointing them at others. (One person actually sticks a muzzle underneath Michael's chin.) Someone hits a guy in the forehead with a basketball, the blow accompanied by a cartoonish "gong."
Crude or Profane Language
While much of the offending dialogue can be a bit indistinct, characters do sometimes utter what sounds like profanity, including one use of "b--ch" and a misuse of God's name. The word "h---" is also used a handful of times, with some using that word in reference to prison.
Drug and Alcohol Content
A gang member tells Michael, "Just letting you know, we don't do drugs anymore. We're running guns now!" Craig, Michael's former friend, drinks liquor at a club. Lisa takes away a glass of champagne from him at one point, telling Craig that he's had enough.
Other Negative Elements
A couple of movie villains act fairly villainously.
Slamma Jamma, like many of its characters, excels when it hits the basketball courts. These guys can flat-out ball.
The film stuffs a number of top-flight basketball artisans into the mix: Michael is played by Chris Staples, a former Harlem Globetrotter. Antagonist Craig is played by Gary Smith, another dunking specialist. Check out Justin Darlington, Rafel Lipek Lipinski and any number of other players who make appearances here on YouTube, and you'll see some pretty spectacular above-the-rim aerobatics. Forget stuntmen or CGI: These players are the real deal.
If only Slamma Jamma had found an equivalent talent to handle the script.
Slamma Jamma can perhaps best be described as well-intentioned. Beyond its aesthetic shortcomings, the film stumbles in other ways. The language can dribble just a bit out of bounds, and sometimes wardrobe choices—though more chaste than what you'd see at many an NBA halftime show—can be a touch risqué.
But while it lacks a bit in terms of its plotting and acting and narrative consistency, it will, indeed, make an impact on some. When I saw the movie, I heard audible sniffles during the film's saddest scenes. And who could not root for Michael as he struggles against a bad rap to get back on his feet again?
Slamma Jamma has a good heart and fine messages. But perhaps more importantly for those who want to see the film, it showcases some amazing athleticism. While this basketball film sometimes stumbles a bit narratively and content-wise, on the court its slam dunk maestros literally soar.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Chris Staples as Michael Diggs; Ryan Gunnarson as Jerome Matthews; Michael Hardy as Brandon; Alexia Hall as Lisa; Rosemarie Smith-Coleman as Gemma; Kelsey Caesar as Taye; Justin Darlington as Jamma; Kenny Dobbs as himself
Tim Chey ( )
March 24, 2017