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Davis Journal

The Movie Guru: ‘Champions’ and ‘Chang Can Dunk’ shine on and off the basketball court

Mar 09, 2023 10:09AM ● By Jenniffer Wardell

Champions (in theaters) 

The basketball players save the movie. 

Just like the life of Woody Harrelson’s basketball coach, Bobby Farrelly’s new movie “Champions” improves dramatically when the special needs basketball players show up. They bring all the warmth, charm and genuine humor the movie has lacked up to that point, and even Harrelson seems to relax in their presence. They make you want to spend time with their characters, and you can’t help but root for them no matter what happens. 

And if you’re worried that they can’t handle the trademark raunchy Farrelly humor, don’t be. They deliver every single one of the movie’s best jokes, including a collection of entertaining digs at Harrelson’s character. Madison Tevlin is a particular delight, with the kind of sharp comic timing you’d normally only find in the best stand-up shows. She definitely deserves more movies, but I also want to see her on Comedy Central roasts. Joshua Felder’s line delivery is also fantastic, enough that he makes things funny that would probably fall flat on paper. 

Unfortunately for audiences, it takes way too long for these guys to show up. The movie spends way too much time setting up Harrelson’s story, and while I’m aware he’s the star power he’s not the one saving the script. Everything before the team shows up is awkward and flat, without even the zip that marked the best of the early Farrelly brothers movies. 

If you can hold on, though, the basketball team shows up to save the day. When you’re hanging out with them, it’s easy to forgive everything you had to take to get there. 

Grade: Two and a half stars 

Chang Can Dunk (Disney+)

At first glance, “Chang Can Dunk” seems like your standard Disney teen sports movie. 

It’s clearly a well-made teen sports movie, but for the first hour or so the tropes arrive in a fairly predictable fashion. There’s a teen wanting to be seen as more than the hopeless nerd he was last year, a big-shot who makes the teen’s life miserable, and a cute new girl who has drawn both their attention. Writer and director Jingyi Shao adds a welcome cultural element to the movie, but arguments with a parent who doesn’t understand is also a well-known trope in this genre. 

But then the moment that should be the big finale hits, complete with a beautiful moment that got me a little choked up, and you realize there’s still almost an hour left in the movie. That’s when the movie starts getting more complicated, but it’s the second twist that follows that really elevates the movie into something far more nuanced. It can be a tough watch at times, but “Chang Can Dunk” comes out of it with a depth and richness that seems completely at odds with the title. 

Don’t ignore that title completely, though. It ends up being more important than you think. 

Grade: Three stars

Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Utah Film Critics Association. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at [email protected].  

Credit for photo ©Focus Features