Friday March 28, 1997
If there's such a thing in Hollywood as being too smart for your own good, Disney's marketing gurus may qualify for releasing a movie on a weekend when it will have to compete with its own subject.
Disney-Touchstone's "The Sixth Man" is a ghost comedy about a college basketball team reaching the Final Four, and on Saturday, while its fictional heroes are trying to scratch out a win in that event on the big screen, every basketball fan worth his Air Jordans will be home watching the real thing on television.
On Sunday, the movie's target audience figures to be out playing the game. And on Monday, they'll be back in front of their TVs for the NCAA Championship itself.
Tuesday, however, looks good.
For those who haven't had enough March Madness by then, "The Sixth Man" is recommended. This is old-fashioned cornball fun, an "Angels in the Back Court" fantasy about a college superstar who returns from the dead to help his younger brother lead their Washington Huskies team to the Final Four.
Kadeem Hardison is Antoine Tyler, a national phenom who suffers a fatal heart attack after slam-dunking an alley-oop pass from younger brother Kenny (Marlon Wayans). The team goes into a deep mid-season slump after Antoine's death, but a prayer from Kenny is answered, and Antoine is soon back on the court, unseen but still an all-star.
The team suddenly can't lose. Antoine sits on the Huskies' basket, casually flicking away opponents' shots. He enters the bodies of his teammates to put a heavenly spring in their step, and enters the bodies of their rivals to throw up some bricks. He even starts riots on the other team's bench.
This is like stealing--exactly like stealing--and as the Huskies head for the Final Four, the mortal players become conscience-stricken and plead with Kenny to kick the ghost off the team.
Randall Miller, who directed "Houseguest" and "Class Act" for Disney, has given "The Sixth Man" the pace of a run-and-gun offense, and the games have authentic settings. Big arenas, big crowds, good players, blathering sportscasters and a parade of big-name opponents with famous coaches--UCLA and its past-master Jim Herrick among them.
All this gives "The Sixth Man" enough verisimilitude to hook young basketball fans, and Eric Sears' quick-cut editing covers most of the seams of the film's under-budgeted special effects.
The script by husband-wife team Christopher Reed and Cynthia Carle lays the brotherly love sentiment on a little too thick at times and includes a romantic subplot about Kenny's relationship with a suspicious female sportswriter (Michael Michele) that goes nowhere. But "The Sixth Man" has an irresistible team spirit, and stars Hardison and Wayans seem to be having too much fun to be acting.
While the filmmakers embrace the cliches of the sport, they admirably avoid the racial stereotypes. It's refreshing to see black youths portrayed positively and without the street language that many screenwriters seem to think is genetic. Frankly, it's hard to understand "The Sixth Man's" cautionary PG-13 rating; the referees missed the call.
The Sixth Man, 1997. PG-13 for brief language and some innuendoes. Touchstone Pictures presents a Mandeville Films production, released by Buena Vista. Director Randall Miller. Producer David Hoberman. Screenplay Christopher Reed, Cynthia Carle. Editor Eric Sears. Production designer Michael Bolton. Music Marcus Miller. Art director Eric Fraser. Costumes Grania Preston. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes. Marlon Wayans as Kenny Tyler. Kadeem Hardison as Antoine Tyler. David Paymer as Coach Pederson. Michael Michele as R.C. St. John.