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‘6th Man’ Swishes One, Despite Weak Plot

Combine a sentimental sports fantasy with a ghostly old standby of Southern folklore and you’ve got an awkward new Disney picture called “The 6th Man.” Marlon Wayans and Kadeem Hardison, as a kind of one-foot-in-the-afterlife comedy team, are a big saving grace.

Although humor, mawkish sentimentality and horror coexist naturally in folklore, they usually seem forced when thrown together in commercial fiction. Screenwriters Christopher Reed and Cynthia Carle pile on the ingredients like a bad pizza, starting with a last-place basketball team, adding a capable player who dies just as he’s about to reach the NCAA Championship and then confronting the athlete’s heartbroken brother and teammate with a ghost who believes it’s OK to cheat for the sake of a win.

Hardison plays the ghost, who is such fun as a wisecracking troublemaker and unseen slam-dunker that it’s difficult to feel much loss at his untimely passing. As the flabbergasted brother, Wayans plays right along with Hardison at keeping the pace brisk - until a heavy-handed and preachy finale, where it is decided the team must face its rivals without supernatural assistance. Director Randall Miller seems most comfortable with the comedy element.

Wayans and Hardison ultimately prove too good for the material, especially when the material is complicated by a nosy reporter (played by Michael Michele) who means to learn the secret of the team’s big rallying.

Wayans registers strongly as the bereaved youngster who has grown up in his brother’s shadow and must learn to cope with the loss. His portrayal is so good that the script’s frequent reminders of its selfconfidence message become tedious.

Hardison is pure energy as the departed brother, a vigorous and arrogant sort in life who finds himself even more so in the afterlife. This is the first time Wayans and Hardison have worked together - but their camaraderie makes the brotherly routine convincing.

Michele makes the most of a gratuitous “snoop” role, which the script complicates unnecessarily by throwing her into a romantic subplot. David Paymer, in a role far removed from his “Quiz Show” crook, is memorable as a fatherly coach.

xxxx “The 6th Man” Location: East Sprague, Lyons and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by Randall Miller, starring Kadeem Hardison, Marlon Wayans, Kevin Dunn, Michael Michele Running time: 1:49 Rating: PG-13