Kobe Doin’ Work (2009) dir. Spike Lee
By Alan Bacchus
It’s an extremely literal title for this odd sports film directed by cine-master Spike Lee. Produced under the ESPN Films banner, ‘Kobe Doin’ Work’ is just about that, capturing an ordinary day of work of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant– that is, playing basketball for the LA Lakers for two hours every other day.
It’s an intriguing high concept idea, which perhaps riffs off the Zinédine Zidane art film from 2006: ‘Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait’. In this film, Lee employing 30 cameras shooting exclusively on Bryant over the course of one NBA game, a concept which, in theory, showcases the extraordinary abilities of a top sports athlete in all aspects of his game, mental and physical. Lee holds true to these creative constraints and shows us Kobe playing a basketball game in a (barely) time compressed version of a single regular season game against their conference rivals the San Antonio Spurs. Overtop of Kobe moving around, shooting baskets, setting picks, talking and motivating his teammates we hear Kobe’s voiceover describing his actions and thoughts about the game like a DVD special feature audio commentary.
And so what we see for 95% of this documentary is one NBA game. But all we get is Kobe, even when he’s just chatting with the ref, or trashing talking the bench, or waving to the crowd. There’s also a lot of basketball, a lot of boring basketball. I play and watch basketball and even appreciate some of the tactics, and even I found it boring.
There’s several fundamental problems – staying exclusively on one person means we have to really have to like the guy to want to spend 85 mins staring at him and listen to him talk. Sure, he’s a good looking guy, but, his talents notwithstanding, is not interesting enough to hear and seen him for 85 mins straight. Second, since we barely hear any of the other players, the film disregards much of the actions and leadership of the other players and coach. Of course, the title of the film is ‘Kobe Doin Stuff” and not ‘Phil Jackson Doin’ Stuff’, and maybe it’s the title which shoots itself in the foot. Thirdly, the game is only a regular season game, 1 of 82 in the season and thus, there are very little stakes in the outcome, and thus no drama. The game ends anti-climatically, with the Lakers winning by such a wide margin that Kobe is on the bench in the final moments.
But the film is a sore disappointment mainly because of the expectations of having Spike Lee’s name above the title. A Spike Lee Joint means something, it means a film told with his unique visual, cultural and cinematic perspective. We always see something different and vibrant in a Spike Lee picture, and so the perfunctory, procedural and undramatic unveiling of this material feels like just a waste of time.
“Kobe Doin’ Work” is available on DVD from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment