Love and Basketball

“Love and Basketball” is a movie about love and basketball — specifically, the idea that the former might be more important than the latter, but that maybe they can intermesh.

In 1981 suburban Los Angeles, 11-year-old Monica Wright (Kyla Pratt) and her family move into an affluent neighborhood where lives young Quincy McCall (Glenndon Chatman) and his family.

Basketball is all Quincy and his friends care about, and Quincy is surprised to learn that Monica is just as good at it as they are — much to the chagrin of her mother (Alfre Woodard), who wishes her daughter wouldn’t be such a tomboy. Quincy’s dad, Zeke (Dennis Haysbert), an NBA player, is proud of his son’s talents, but wants him to focus on getting an education rather than following in his exact footsteps.

Quincy and Monica develop a childhood crush for each other, which dissipates over time. By high school, the two (now played by Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan) are still friends, but have other romantic interests. Both are basketball stars, though, and both wind up playing for USC, where their romantic relationship blossoms and withers, in the midst of basketball-related trials.

The film is marked by good performances across the board. Woodard’s role as Monica’s mother goes largely unnoticed until near the end of the film, when the two have a strikingly poignant scene that addresses gender roles and family values. Woodard is an asset in any film, and this one is no exception.

Epps and Latham have a certain chemistry as Quincy and Monica, and they do a lot toward making the film enjoyable. Despite their best efforts, though, “Love and Basketball” wears out its welcome. The opening scenes with the youngsters are cute, the first scenes with them in high school are engaging … and after that, it turns into a stale soap opera, certain to induce seat-squirming in even the most attentive viewers. (If ever there was a 2-hour film that didn’t need to be 2 hours long, this is it.) Love eventually wins, right at the buzzer, but the overall impact is not particularly strong, because we already knew that basketball was just a game and that love was more important. Seeing the characters get a grip on that makes for a film that is watchable, but not terribly meaningful.

B- (; PG-13, somewhat frequent profanity, abundant sexual dialogue and crass language, brief partial nudity, a sex scene.)