For two-thirds of the way, “Wolves” is a decent high school sports movie, thanks to actors who are really committed to its somewhat formulaic characters.
But then it’s as if Bart Freundlich, who wrote and directed, loses confidence in the performances and decides he’d better throw in every cliche in the genre.
Anthony (Taylor John Smith) is a basketball star at a private high school in New York who is good enough to be drawing interest from Cornell University. The league championship game is looming, but Anthony has distractions, many of them caused by his father (Michael Shannon), whose drinking and gambling are spiraling out of control.
This is stock plotting — the athlete sidetracked by domestic matters at a crucial moment — but Smith and especially Shannon sell the conceit well, aided by fine performances from Carla Gugino as Anthony’s mother and Zazie Beetz as his girlfriend. Yet just when the film seems as if it will choose the road rarely taken by movies involving sports — the subtle road, the one that doesn’t involve last-second heroics on the court or diamond or field — Freundlich veers into thudding excess.
Suddenly Anthony has more than his father to worry about, and the adversity just keeps piling up, building to a ridiculously improbable climax. Too bad — the actors do nice work before things derail.
(At Screenland Crossroads.)
Rated R. Time: 1:49.