a young LeBron James goes for a dunk at a high school game with cheerleaders and fans in the background
Credit: Oluwaseye Olusa / Universal Pictures

Sorry for mixing sports metaphors, but Shooting Stars has big hurdles to jump. First, anyone interested in LeBron James’s early years knows how high school ended. (Spoiler: He has four NBA championships.) Shooting Stars needs a will-he-make-it finale on par (sorry) with Hoosiers, or The Natural, or even Back to the Future, which it doesn’t have.

Second, a two-hour movie covering eight years in the lives of James and his three closest friends and teammates needs to pick and choose its moments. Unfortunately, this script shoves in everything, rendering seismic events as important as throwaway moments.

James (Marquis “Mookie” Cook, a real-life college basketball star) being ruled ineligible for the 2003 jersey scandal? Blip. Lil Dru Joyce (Caleb McLaughlin) and his continued resentment over his short stature? Punchline. James’s struggle to stay grounded while being told he’s possibly the greatest basketball player ever? Eh.

That means the actors have to pick up the slack, and Cook has all the charisma of a spatula. The movie does better when it focuses on McLaughlin, because he fills Joyce with a charm that would make his big ego (not without reason) and quick temper a drag. Wood Harris, as Joyce’s father and eventual coach, is excellent (more of him, please).

But the biggest mistake is Dermot Mulroney’s portrayal of Keith Dambrot, the boys’ coach their freshman year at St. Vincent-St. Mary. Mulroney can be a fine actor, but this is his second I-have-a-big-personality performance of 2023, and it works just as badly here as it did in Scream VI.

This adaptation of James’s and Buzz Bissinger’s 2009 book would have done better as a six-to-eight-hour limited series. There’s a compelling story here, but this version isn’t it. PG-13