Director – Randall Miller, Screenplay – Cynthia Carle & Christopher Reed, Producer – David Hoberman, Photography – Michael Ozier, Music – Marcus Miller, Visual Effects – Available Light (Supervisor – John T. Van Vliet), Special Effects Supervisor – Stewart Bradley, Production Design – Michael Bolton. Production Company – Mandeville Films/Touchstone
Marlon Wayans (Kenny Tyler), Kadeem Hardison (Antoine Tyler), Michael Michele (R.C. St John), David Paymer (Coach Pederson), Kevin Dunn (Mikulski), Vladimir Cuk (Zigi Hrbacek), Travis Ford (Danny O’Grady), Lorenzo Orr (Malik Major), Chris Spencer (Jimmy Stubbs), Jack Karuletwa (Luther Lasalle)
The Washington Huskies basketball team are on a losing streak. This is compounded when star player Antoine Tyler falls from the basket and dies in the midst of a game. The entire team is shattered, especially Antoine’s brother Kenny who has always lived in Antoine’s shadow. During the next game something causes Kenny and other players to suddenly fly up, pot the baskets and win the game. Afterwards, the ghostly Antoine appears to Kenny, telling him that he has returned from the dead to help the team. With Kenny the only one able to see him, the team suddenly find themselves on a winning streak due to Antoine’s invisible aid. However, Kenny soon finds that Antoine’s presence has become as much a hindrance as it is a help.
The Sixth Man is a slim rehash of Angels in the Outfield (1951), which had notedly just been remade a couple of years before this film came out as Angels in the Outfield (1994). The only real difference is that The Sixth Man has substituted basketball for baseball and the beleaguered team receives supernatural help from a ghost instead of angels.
The Sixth Man combines two popular fantasy themes – the invisible companion(s) comedy as best exemplified by Harvey (1950), and the gimmick wherein a sports team/player is given fantastical aid. In respect to conventions of either genre, The Sixth Man is exactly the type of film one expects it to be. That is to say there are no surprises to it at all – the emotional cues and messages are all there and exactly what one expects them to be and the plot transpires in a way that is utterly predictable. Most of the film’s emphasis is on the comic potential of the central gimmick – of the ghostly Kadeem Hardison making life embarrassing for Marlon Wayans or of people reacting to what appears to be Wayans reacting to empty air. What is perhaps the greatest surprise is that such a slim plot has been spun out to nearly a two hour running time. At such length, the film manages to drag these slim gags out to the point that they become belaboured.
The trouble with fantastical sports films like these is that the appeal they draw one in on – comic gimmicks of fantastic aid to ailing sports teams or else players with fantastic powers – send out contradictory messages. One cannot help but think that such fantastical advantages are unfair to the opposing team, not to mention unsporting. Most of these films recognise this and have an end message about the teams/players learning to rely on their own abilities instead of fantastic aid. Although one cannot help but think that this too is also a mixed message – the film draws you in with one hook about a fantastic gimmick but its end message has to be the spurning of the very hook that it initially holds up for an audience’s amusement. The Sixth Man is perhaps bizarre for the extremes that it takes this – forced to rely on their own abilities up against impossible odds, the team manage to think positive by “relying on the Antoine within” in order to turn themselves into champions at the last minute.
There’s nothing really here at all. It is hard to imagine that the tired gags could hold any interest for comedy fans, while the inane soft-heartedness of the exercise is surely unlikely to appeal to sports fans. The film’s one point of interest in retrospect was in being one of the early starring roles from Marlon Wayans of the Wayans Brothers’ fame.