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‘Basketball Diaries’ Fails To Hit The Mark

Robert W. Butler The Kansas City Star

“The Basketball Diaries”

Location: Newport cinemas

Credits: Directed by Scott Kalvert, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Juliette Lewis, James Madio, Patrick McGaw, Lorraine Bracco, Bruno Kirby, Ernie Hudson

Running time: 98 minutes

Rating: R

Ah, to be young, talented and hooked on dope.

That’s the main thrust of “The Basketball Diaries,” first-time director Scott Kalvert’s film adaptation of Jim Carroll’s cult memoir of growing up with a needle in his arm.

The film gives young star Leonardo DiCaprio plenty to chew on - not just disaffected youth but disaffected youth in the howling agony of heroin withdrawal.

But Kalvert, a veteran of the music video scene, and screenwriter Bryan Goluboff don’t provide this gruesome tale with any kind of depth or subtext. We get plenty of vomiting and shivers and screaming meemies, but what we see is all we get. There’s no attempt to tell why any of this matters, and therein lies the film’s great failing.

Jim (DiCaprio) and his buddies on the St. Vitus High basketball squad are the best parochial school team in NYC and always just a word or two away from a jail term, a brawl or a drunken stupor. But, hey, these guys are young, cocky and think of themselves as immortal.

Which may explain why Jim - a bright kid who compulsively writes stories, poetry and journal entries - allows himself to slide into the pit of addiction.

At its best, Kalvert’s film captures the edgy, jumpy dance of nerves that characterize young turks on the prowl in the Big Apple. His depiction of Jim’s withdrawal from heroin is almost too awful to endure.

And yet “The Basketball Diaries” seems so remote that we never enter into its protagonist’s life.

Like its young subjects, “The Basketball Diaries” seems so intent on preening that it cannot allow itself to feel anything.

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