An interesting true story presented in an energetic fashion, “Big Shot: Confessions of a Campus Bookie” is very entertaining fare, carried by a terrific performance from David Krumholtz (Slums of Beverly Hills).A TV-movie directed by Ernest Dickerson (Spike Lee’s talented cinematographer). Krumholtz stars as Bennie Sillman, a Brooklyn-born teen who is headed towards college in Arizona, even though his mother can’t understand why he’s headed across the country for school.
When he finally gets there, it’s a constant party and the occasional class. Sillman is an intelligent kid who falls in with the wrong crowd – when he finds a way to make lots of money easily taking bets from the local college kids, he gets hooked. When a local bookie (Nick Turturro) enters the scene, he teaches Bennie how even more money is possible. Bennie makes friends with a local college basketball star and convinces him that if they were to throw games they could make a fortune. The question is, if Benny finds himself in trouble from sides both criminal and federal, will he be able to talk his way out of it?
Although this is a television feature, director Earnest Dickerson and crew have made the most out of the budget. Interesting cinematography choices by Steven Bernstein are apparent throughout (following Bennie as he falls out of his desk in class after a particularly long night) and there’s some fun editing tricks that are never overused. The sets and the general look of the movie is a little sparse at times, but its energy and performances go a long way towards making up for it. The film doesn’t take itself entirely seriously, either, which is a plus.
Krumholtz offers one of his finest performances as Sillman – fast talking and funny, the actor plays both the highs and the eventual lows perfectly. Turturro is engaging as Bennie’s new boss and Jennifer Morrison is sweet and charming as the love interest who finds herself a second priority behind Bennie’s gambling.
This is a great little feature about a smart kid who falls in with the wrong crowd and allows things to spin out of control. The fact that it’s a true story (the real Sillman makes an appearance at the end) makes it even more compelling. A bit bigger budget and I’d be surprised if this couldn’t have gotten at least minor theatrical distribution.
VIDEO: “Big Shot” is presented by 20th Century Fox in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality isn’t perfect, but I’d be willing to bet that this anamorphic widescreen presentation looks better than the movie did when it first aired on FX. Sharpness and detail are very good, but a little inconsistent – most scenes seemed crisp and well-defined, although a few scenes here and there looked a bit softer in comparison.
Flaws were present on occasion – the picture showed some mild grain during some of the darker scenes, along with a few specks and marks on the print used. Slight edge enhancement was seen, too, but no pixelation or other artifacts. Colors were natural and accurately presented, with no smearing or other flaws. Overall, a fairly good transfer.
SOUND: “Big Shot” is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The occasional rap music and a sound effect or two are the only elements that make it into the surrounds. Other than that, the dialogue-driven feature offers fine audio quality, with clear dialogue and crisp music.
Commentary: The DVD includes a commentary from Bennie Sillman, director Earnest Dickerson, producer Kevin Messick and star David Krumholtz. All four provide a fairly interesting viewpoint on the production, as Krumholtz discusses his acting choices, while producer Messick and director Dickerson talk about getting the story together and working on a fairly small budget. Sillman talks about the details of gambling and also chats about the real details of his story. It’s a fun commentary, with some insightful moments and good technical details.
Featurettes: Two featurettes – “NCAA Gambling: It’s Not Worth It” and “The Real Bookie” explore the reality behind Sillman’s story and how a bit of casual gambling spiraled out of control into very serious trouble. The second featurette is a more in-depth interview with Sillman, who explains how everything happened.
Final Thoughts: Although most direct-to-video or direct-to-TV fare isn’t anything that special, occasionally a feature comes along that’s surprisingly good. “Big Shot”, while not flawless, was an entertaining and energetic presentation of an interesting true story. Fox’s DVD offers fine audio/video quality and a few supplements, but is awfully high priced at $34.99. Definitely worth rental consideration, though.
The Film ***