Rewatching "Thunderstruck," Kevin Durant's Bricked Attempt At A Supernatural "Space Jam"
In 2012, before he was an MVP but when he was already a superstar, Kevin Durant teamed with (um) Jim Belushi in a body-swap basketball comedy. It's not great, but also: what?
Stephen Curry may have a second consecutive NBA championship within his sights, a loving family with a precocious daughter, and the Hollywood good looks of the late Allan Arbus, but deep down, Kevin Durant has something Chef does not—a mediocre Vice Versa-style comedy in which he plays himself. Steve Kerr has a cameo in it, too, technically making it a Golden State Warriors movie as well, but the Warriors have their own obscure movie which I've discussed in the past. The time to talk about the Kevin Durant Thunder, and Thunderstruck is now—before the memory of their brief supernova ascent during this postseason dissipates, and before Durant becomes a free agent and inevitably loses three NBA Finals for whatever Eastern Conference team claims him.
2012 was a weird year for the NBA. Coming off a lockout that cost the league the first 16 games of the season, the NBA was as stacked as it is now, but also something of a mess. The Hornets were the Bobcats, the Pelicans were the Hornets, and the Sixers made it to the second round of the playoffs—add it up, and it was hard not to get the sense that the Mayans were right about the apocalypse being nigh. Kevin Durant thrived in this era, as part of a young solid team alongside such nobodies as James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and supported by such superstars as Royal Ivey and Nazr Mohammed. The Thunder lost 4 games to 1 in the 2012 NBA Finals to LeBron James' Miami Heat, but the future was looking exceedingly bright for, um, Scott Brooks' team.
Thunderstruck was borne of this tumult; we had no idea four years ago that the freaking Spurs would continue to be this good, or that the injury-riddled son of Dell Freaking Curry would somehow usurp Durant as the emerging face of the NBA. Durant is still only 27, and already has that Finals appearance, an MVP, and this postseason's brilliance on his docket. But watching Thunderstruck, it's hard not to wonder whatever happened to that fella who just led his squad to within one game of defeating the greatest team in NBA history.
Kevin Durant is (um) Kevin Durant, that rare NBA superstar we take for granted because he has been so good for so long, and who we also kind of forgot entirely in the age of the LeBron-led Big Three and Steph Curry's lowercase big threes. For a movie called Thunderstruck that stars the franchise player for the Oklahoma City Thunder, we're inevitably introduced at the very beginning to Jim Belushi, who is coaching high school basketball. This immediately is a disappointment, because Belushi is the true star of the movie I really wanted to see, NBA JIM.
Instead, the real true actual star of Thunderstruck is Taylor Gray, a midcard Nickelodeon star who plays Team Belushi's towel boy, Brian "Hang Time" Newall. Brian's nickname is either ironic in that he sucks at basketball, or appropriate because the 1990's TNBC show "Hang Time" was truly awful. He has a little sister whose only purpose is to catch him on tape sucking at basketball, and inevitably Brian's ineptitude goes quasi-viral at the Eastview High School cafeteria. The Legend Of Brian Newall follows him onto the Chesapeake Energy Arena court, where he misses a half-court shot but does successfully knock down Rumble the Bison. Kevin Durant, in a career-making performance as a slightly more stilted version of Kevin Durant, takes pity on the kid and signs his basketball. In the process, their respective well-wishes result in a supernatural transfer of talents, and a super-predictable but ultimately harmless hour-and-a-half of entertainment.
Thunderstruck is by and large a paint-by-numbers affair, but there are some flourishes of near-inspiration that make it (nearly) watchable for adults. For instance, Kevin Durant's real life mother (and Lifetime movie muse) Wanda Pratt shows up near the beginning of Hollywood Durantula's slump in cheerleading getup and tries to pom-pom his son's demons away. Brandon T. Jackson (Alpa Chino from Tropic Thunder) gets the role a less popular Kevin Hart was born to play as Durant's agent, who does everything short of kidnapping to ensure Durant's talent single-handedly carries your Oklahoma City Thunder to an eighth-seed. After a few montages in which Jackson uses a static rug and a taser, among other things, to get Brian and Kevin to switch their powers back, Brian realizes that physically harming the team's mascot was what really made the whole thing happen in the first place. Durant gets his mojo back, costing the Thunder a shot at Anthony Bennett—which is okay because they traded up to get Steven Adams anyway—and forcing Brian to bullshit his way into making the game-winning basket on his own. And so everyone in Oklahoma was happy, for a while. Provided the conversation never turned to politics or whatever.
For an NBA All-Star, Kevin Durant is honestly still a rather lousy actor, failing to reach even The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh or Amazing Grace And Chuck levels of acting in Thunderstruck. In 2014, Durant publicly admitted to TMZ that if he had to choose between Thunderstruck and Shaquille O'Neal's Kazaam, that Kazaam was the better movie; this led Jim Belushi to defend Thunderstruck, which is as devastating a QED as anyone could imagine. To be fair, According To Jim Belushi is perfectly fine in it, and he gets to share screen time with his son, who plays his assistant, but this is no Mr. Destiny. William Ragsdale, the head from "Herman's Head," has a glorified cameo as Brian's father, while Shaquille O'Neal, Charles Barkley, and Marv Albert have all been in much funnier, much better things.
The lack of any NBA personnel not affiliated with Turner Broadcasting hampers Thunderstruck; even a "Hey, folks, I'm Eric Maynor!" would have been much appreciated, here. There is an okay cameo from WNBA superstar Candace Parker, though. John Whitesell, a veteran TV director who also helmed Malibu's Most Wanted and both Big Momma's House sequels, among other things, does what he can to push Thunderstruck from a one-and-a-half-star movie to a solid one-and-three-quarters. It's not really enough, but kudos to him for breaking a sweat.
In the end, Thunderstruck is a sweet and completely toothless smile, and a well-meaning attempt at a brand extension for Kevin Durant that just didn't quite extend the brand. While Durant is reluctant to talk about his big screen debut, it's nothing for him to lose sleep over, although I can clearly imagine Darren Rovell looking at its box office numbers and deciding it was. It's just that there are so many better ways to remember the Kevin Durant Era in Oklahoma City, this year's Western Conference Finals high among them, and so much to look forward to in the second half of his career, that there's no need for an off-brand Space Jam to sweeten the deal. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a Lifetime movie about Kevin Durant's movie to catch up on.