OPINION: Spike Lee’s Film on Kobe Bryant Could Use Some Work

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Spike Lee went through the ESPN Car Wash promoting his film, “Kobe Doin’ Work”, yesterday. I suppose he is the first major motion film director to go through the car wash, and I also imagine that he’ll be the only major motion film director to do so. And after seeing his film about “a game in the life of Kobe,” I imagine this will be the last piece of work he does on ESPN’s dime.

I love Spike Lee, and I love ESPN. The marriage of the two entities seemed destined for greatness. When I was watching the film’s “game of choice” between the Spurs and Lakers last season, I was 100% ecstatic to hear that Spike Lee was doing a piece on Kobe and I could not wait to see what would come of it.

Spike is known for doing some outlandish stuff in his movies. First of all, he is a cinematographic genius, and he really can change the perception of a scene, character or purpose with any one of the hundreds of unique angles, graphic effects and cinematic techniques that he has used over the course of his career.

Secondly, Spike is the master of addressing the issues that few other directors touch on. Sure, Spielberg talks about genocide, and Allen talks about the perils of love, but Spike talks about what’s real and what’s now. When he brings up racism in his films, his characters do not just experience it, they embody it. When he brings up sex and love, he doesn’t just explore the perils of monogamy, he explores the perils of not being monogamous.

Lastly, Spike is a terrific storyteller. Have you ever meet somebody who told stories in a roundabout fashion, seemingly with no rhyme or rhythm to their tale, only to hear the end of the narrative and became convinced it was the best story you have ever heard in your life? That is Spike Lee. His movies come across off-topic at first, only to convince the viewer that it is not his movie that is off topic, but it is the viewer himself who is off topic. He makes his audience see things a in a new light, that can turn a story about a hot day in Brooklyn into one of the greatest social archetype flicks of all time.

That—and more—is what makes Spike Lee a tremendous film director and thinker beyond his time. That being said, very little of those aspects were found in his documentary about Kobe Bryant.

I know it’s a lot to ask of a guy to make this grand biopic about a guy when you’re locked into the timeframe of a 48 minute basketball game. But I thought, if anyone could do it, it was Spike Lee. I also thought, if it could not be done, than Spike would not take this project on. Needless to say, I was wrong on at least one of those accounts.

As I said before, Spike is a master of touching on deeper social issues. Of course, Kobe is not the Plato of our generation, but he is an icon in our society, and clearly his own thoughts about his place in basketball, society, and maybe even just on his own team, would all be worthy points of discussion, but the film touches on none of that. Then there is the obvious thing we all want Kobe to elaborate more on, which was the whole Colorado debacle, but Spike didn’t even go near that topic—not even so much a question regarding how he has grown individually and with his family since that dubious event. And Spike didn’t dare bring up the LeBron-Kobe debate. Some insight on what Kobe thought about LeBron, or at least what it was like to play against LeBron and MJ, would have been nice, but it wasn’t in the film. Heck, I would have settled for a conversation about what Kobe hopes to accomplish in his remaining years as an NBA player.

Remember how I said Spike was a master storyteller as well? Well, not so much in this film. “Kobe Doing Work” is basically 80-something minutes of Kobe talking over footage of a basketball game. There is no plot, there is no story to tell, and there is no underlying meaning Spike is trying to drive home. It is more or less like sitting through a poorly-written, sitcom version of a basketball film session, only the lead character (Kobe) isn’t the least bit funny. Occasionally, Kobe tries to make a joke or two about giving Kurt Thomas a hard time, which I’m sure is funny if your name is Kobe Bryant or you have a really big soft spot for guards bouncing off power forwards. And as great as Kobe is, let’s face it, he won’t be doing play-by-play for the Lakers after he retires. He has one of the most monotonous voices—which is high criticism coming from me, someone with a no inflection in my voice whatsoever. The film would have been better off if it were narrated by one-time ESPN reporter Stephen A. Smith. Too bad they let him go, huh?

I will give Spike some credit for at least bringing some of his great cinematography work to this film. He does a nice couple of ultra-slow-photo shots that are pretty unique. However, they don’t really add to anything or give the audience any new perspective that say a really good Nike commercial wouldn’t give you.

So when “Kobe Doin’ Work” airs on ESPN this Saturday, don’t get too overly excited about it. It’s really not an Oscar-worthy film. Which is probably why they are airing it on television—then again, it’s not exactly “Must See TV” either. However, if you’re a sports fan, it’s kind of a “must see” for you, if not solely for the purpose of being able to talk about the film in the future. And at least you can rest your hat on the fact that it does not come across as some kind of homage to the Lakers or any other team—so Sacramento Kings fans, you can watch this too. At its core, the film is really just a look inside the head of Kobe Bryant. Unfortunately, it only gets skin deep, which is to be expected, given that skin-deep is about a deep as Kobe has ever let the public see him.

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