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‘Shooting Stars’ charts how LeBron James rose with an assist from his friends

<i>Universal Pictures</i><br/>Sian Cotton
Universal Pictures
Sian Cotton

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — LeBron James continues paving the way for his post-basketball media career, this time by producing a superstar origin story adapted from his book, “Shooting Stars,” about how his hoops heroism came with an assist from a close-knit group of friends. Basically “It takes a village to raise an all-star,” it’s a familiar B-level sports story about the strains of success buoyed only slightly by its talented young cast.

LeBron and his buddies are introduced at age 10 in 1996 in Akron, Ohio, playing basketball under the watchful eye of one of the boys’ dads, Dru Joyce II (“The Wire’s” Wood Harris), and fantasizing about what life will be like when they make it to “the league.”

Having dubbed themselves the Fab Four after Michigan’s freshman class that went to the NCAA championship, the film quickly jumps ahead four years, to the group making the controversial decision to jointly attend St. Vincent – a predominantly White Catholic high school – so that they can continue playing together.

That stretch turns out to be the most interesting in the movie, as the freshmen labor to earn the respect of their new coach (Dermot Mulroney), a cranky former college head man who admits he hates being back in high school, but, “If I gotta be here, I’m gonna win.”

Winning requires playing the younger kids, despite the skepticism of the upperclassmen, their parents, and the break with tradition that involves not honoring seniority.

Directed by Chris Robinson, the story is adapted from the book by James and “Friday Night Lights” author Buzz Bissinger, and previously served as the basis for the documentary “More Than a Game.”

Seeking to meet the dramatic demands of a movie, “Shooting Stars” finds its conflict in the growing recognition of James (played by Mookie Cook, a 6’7”-inch forward slated to attend the University of Oregon) as a for-the-ages talent, attracting the kind of attention that can swell a teenager’s head.

LeBron’s budding ego doesn’t go unnoticed by buddies/teammates Lil Dru (Caleb McLaughlin), Sian (Khalil Everage) and Willie (Avery S. Wills, Jr.), or for that matter, James’ girlfriend Savannah (Katlyn Nichol), who winces when he says they don’t need to take the SAT test given the professional stardom that awaits him, pompously telling her, “You won the lotto.”

Dru, in some respects, serves as the movie’s “Hoop Dreams” heart, an undersized guard and lights-out shooter whose love for the game is practically unmatched, but who lacks the physical gifts LeBron and others enjoy.

Where “Shooting Stars” merely glances the rim, ultimately, is the basketball sequences themselves, which rely too much on slow motion and don’t conjure much excitement. There’s also a too-episodic format in dividing the movie by each year of high school, creating restlessness to get to the inevitable crawl spelling out where everyone except LeBron (presumably you’ve heard of him) ended up.

James’ Lakers were recently ousted from the NBA playoffs, prompting the now-38-year-old star and all-time scoring leader to hint about the prospect of retirement, a decision that all elite athletes face sooner or (in his case) much, much later.

Heading directly to streaming via Peacock, “Shooting Stars” provides an earnest reminder that James didn’t spring from the ground a fully formed basketball phenom, but was rather shaped in part by the coaches, teammates, friends and mother that helped guide him.

The message certainly scores, even during those periods when the movie doesn’t.

“Shooting Stars” premieres June 2 on Peacock.

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