Wednesday, April 22, 1998

Soul in the Hole

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 1998 at 12:00 AM

No, this isn't Hoop Dreams II. Danielle Gardner's documentary featuring the feats of basketball coach Kenny Jones and his team avoids that award-winner's American-dream motif to depict the real deal around the courts of the streets. Jones' team, Kenny's Kings, blazes a bold tournament season for itself in the summer of 1993, and Gardner's camera follows this intriguing leader through that period's crests and falls with great focus.

Kenny works with some talented kids from the surrounding Brooklyn area, but the most gifted is the wayward Ed "Booger" Smith. Booger is dazzlingly agile and socially unreconstructed, a wit who might enroll in college or stick up a party store with equal nonchalance. Kenny is a working Joe who coaches ghetto youths in order to discipline them past dumb decisions. Gardner's coverage and occasional montagelike sequences highlight the differences between these two poles, as well as street fetishes from dice games to gold teeth in store windows. The filmmaker scores the picture with banging beats from rap acts including Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep, setting up parallels with recent urban fare from the likes of Spike Lee.

Perhaps the Spikester could take some lessons from Gardner on theme; Soul in the Hole's middle section delves concisely, through candid interviews, to the core of its subject's pathos. Booger's teammates admit that witnesses to the athlete's success want to see him fail, while his foster parents practically see him as already failed. Similar to Spike's chief moment of glory, Do the Right Thing, Hole observes how discontent festers among urban center denizens; even coach Jones loses his head in a pivotal turn.

Despite its patronizing title (culled from one of the tournament's key games), Soul in the Hole supports the Brooklynites' will to self-empowerment over aid from any overarching corporate entities. Its eloquent capturing of powerful moments -- as when Kenny's assistant says he doesn't want the kids to use the word "nigger" during public games -- more than validates its existence, as does as its testimony that street games rule over professional ball any day.

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