The documentary Quantum Hoops is firmly rooted in a premise that Americans love and hold dear as a reflection of our collective mythological character: the story of the feisty underdog battling seemingly insurmountable odds. The underdogs in this film, however, are some of the most intellectually gifted people in the country, and the battle they’re waging is less a matter of life and death than one of simple pride. Director Rick Greenwald follows the 2006 Caltech basketball team as they try to break the school’s 21-year losing streak—that’s over 240 consecutive conference losses. The Caltech Beavers are a surprisingly charming group of overachievers who prove to have as much heart on the court as they do brains in the classroom (almost all of the team members had perfect math scores on the SAT), which helps when the film’s energy flags. That happens mostly toward the beginning, as Greenwald spends what feels like too much time on the history of the school, its many Nobel Prize winners, and the decline of its once-glorious athletic past. All that context pays off beautifully, though, in a final game that’s filled with so many nail-biting twists and turns that, were this a Hollywood film, the audience would scoff at being so cynically manipulated.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 13, 2008