Amateur (2018)

It’s incredibly difficult to make it as a professional athlete. The numbers are against you, everyone you play with is against you, and the slightest misstep could doom a career. Amateur is the latest movie about someone trying to, eventually, become a professional athlete—but early on in that quest, when he’s only 14 years old.

That person is Terron (Michael Rainey Jr.), a talented basketball player who also suffers from dyscalculia, which the film simplifies as “number blindness.” He works around it, for the most part, and finds himself recruited for a high school team run by Coach Gaines (Josh Charles). As such, he has to deal with older, bigger teammates and opponents, a lack of focus on classes, being away from home—where his overprotective mother (Sharon Leal) and brain-damaged-from-concussions father (Brian White) struggle to make ends meets—and a few other minor inconveniences that will not surprise anyone who has ever watched a movie about an athlete before. Maybe they weren’t focused on a protagonist so young, but they’re the same tropes.

As such, Amateur doesn’t have a ton to offer as a movie about a kid wanting to “make it” in the sport of basketball. The drama is pretty thin, the stakes are low—even if everything goes wrong, he’s 14 and still has a chance to go to school and make a good life for himself—and there aren’t even many basketball games. None of the games we do see try to be the sort of pulse-pounding, thrilling games that most sports movies feature. Nothing important is coming down to a last-second buzzer-beater.

That makes Amateur feel kind of inconsequential. It tells an okay story about a good kid who wants to play basketball and do what’s best for himself and his family … and nothing much else. It’s lacking in characterization, it has low stakes, it doesn’t have a ton of drama, and most its scenes—especially the ones focused on sports—are lifted from better movies where the scenes mean more because they have stronger characters, stakes, and drama. Inserted here, they fall largely flat.

Amateur has two strong points. The first is its acting. Michael Rainey Jr. makes for a good lead, Sharon Leal does the “concerned mom” thing well, Brian White really needed more to do with what could have been a fascinating role if given more time and development, and Josh Charles’ coach’s motivation is always in question, and he plays the charming, but potentially backstabbing role with ease. The direction the film eventually takes in its final third is also different from most of these films, which at least allows it to end on a more interesting note than it could have taken.

Amateur is a largely inconsequential movie. It’s a film in which most of its scenes can be found in better, more engaging movies where the scenes work better because of higher stakes and drama, and stronger characters. Amateur is lacking in those areas, which doesn’t allow for it to be terribly engaging on a narrative or emotional level. It has solid acting and it gets moderately more interesting in its final third, but it’s just another underdog sports movie.

Conclusion: Amateur is another underdog sports movie.

Recommendation: If you like sports movies, maybe it’s worth watching on a rainy afternoon.

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