At first glance, “Amateur,” a new Netflix original movie about corruption in American youth basketball, couldn’t have come at a better time. In the wake of ongoing FBI and NCAA investigations into the conduct of many of the nation’s top college basketball programs, a movie that takes a deep dive into the dark underbelly of college sports seems like a no-brainer. For the first two thirds of the film, “Amateur,” written and directed by first time feature director Ryan Koo, seems poised to say something meaningful about the seedy world that makes up high school and college athletics. Then the third act hits, and it all falls apart.
Throughout the film the acting is competent but not transcendent. Michael Rainey Jr. (“Power”) stars as Terron Forte, a promising 14-year-old basketball player with dreams of playing in the big leagues. Rainey Jr. is good but not great in the role, innocent enough for the audience to believe he would overlook some of the obvious clues that he’s being sold a bag of goods, but with enough acting chops to carry some of the more emotional scenes in the back half of the film. Josh Charles (“Sports Night”) features prominently as his wheeling, dealing prep-school coach, while Sharon Leal (“Addicted”) and Brian White (“The Cabin in the Woods”) round out the cast as Terron’s mother and father.
The script attempts to take a full look at the dangerous effects that a singular focus on sports can have on a person but comes up short in providing the necessary depth to tackle these issues correctly. Numerous secondary storylines over-complicate the film, from Terron’s learning disability to his father’s brain trauma (a consequence of years as a football player) to the trials and tribulations of the other players on Terron’s team. None of these storylines are given enough space to shine on their own and as such never seem to come together quite like they should. The film is compelling for the first two thirds, as it plays like a serious drama that is taking a hard and realistic look at the way these money rich sports can save or destroy people’s lives. The problem is that in the last third of the film the entire story falls completely flat on its face.
The twist that propels the story into it’s final act revolves entirely around every single character in the movie acting completely stupid. It requires the audience to believe that Terron is the dumbest person alive, which totally undermines his character for the rest of the feature. The question at stake throughout the story is whether or not Terron will be able to make it in this corrupt basketball world with his integrity intact. The first two thirds of the movie take this storyline seriously, and they feel like a believable rendition of something that might actually happen. The end of the movie plays like a Disney fairy tale, in which Terron outsmarts everyone and comes up with a way out not just for himself, but for his parents, coach, friends and almost every other character we’ve met along the way. It feels like an incredible cheat in a story that sets up a zero sum game the first 70 minutes to have everyone and their uncle get to win at the end. All is forgiven, all is well, everyone gets their happy ending and gets to ride off into the sunset. It’s tonally jarring and completely inconsistent with the story being told. The ending completely undermines what might otherwise have been an above average look at the dark side of basketball. Sadly, the ending of “Amateur” will make you feel like an idiot for even bothering to watch it.