Blackjack: The Jackie Ryan Story

Movie review by
Marina Gordon, Common Sense Media
Blackjack: The Jackie Ryan Story Movie Poster Image
Uneven basketball biopic has language, drinking, drugs.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 98 minutes

Parents say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Kids say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Jackie perseveres and follows his passion for basketball despite his father's discouragement and outright harassment.

Positive Role Models

Jackie parties, drinks, and does drugs, undermining his shot at the NBA. He also trains hard for his tryout with the Nets, and his family, except for his father, are supportive and loving of one another. But they also react without empathy to the news of a Black teen's death (and the subsequent protests). Female characters lack nuance and are depicted either as angels (Jackie's mother and girlfriend) or party girls. 


Jackie gets into many fights both on the court and in bars. His best friend is beaten badly (off screen) when he doesn't pay his debts to the local mobsters. The family argues frequently and swears at each other. The movie takes place in 1990, when the aftermath of the killing of Black teen Yusef Hawkins sparked protests and violence in Brooklyn.


Almost all of the characters swear a lot -- all varieties of "f--k" are said many times, as are "s--t," "jerkoff," and others. The "N" word is used once among Black characters. Jackie's father uses the phrase "monkey ball," which has racist connotations, to describe basketball.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Jackie and his friends and family drink a lot, often to excess. Characters also smoke marijuana, and viewers see a bag of (presumably) cocaine. Many characters smoke cigarettes. Jackie's default to partying is portrayed as a major problem in his life.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Blackjack: The Jackie Ryan Story covers the months in 1990 when renowned Brooklyn streetball player Jackie Ryan (Greg Finley) got the chance to try out for the New Jersey Nets, only to have his hard-partying ways undermine his dreams. Jackie and his circle of friends and family often overdo it on both alcohol and drugs. Many of the characters swear -- "f--k" is used liberally in all its forms (including "F--k-o," Jackie's father's nickname for his son), as well as "s--t," bitch, and more. The "N" word is used once among Black characters. There are a few minor fight scenes, and one bad beating is heard off- screen. The movie takes place in 1990, when the aftermath of the killing of Black teen Yusef Hawkins sparked protests and violence in Brooklyn. Jackie's family reacts to the news on TV with "So, what, now all White people are bad?" Jackie's main basketball rivalry is with a more successful Black player, whom he (spoiler alert!) ultimately beats in a one-on-one match, to cheers. The women in Blackjack lack nuance and are depicted either as angels (Jackie's mother and girlfriend) or party girls. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

At the beginning of BLACKJACK: THE JACKIE RYAN STORY, we learn that Jackie Ryan would one day be called both "one of the biggest wastes of talent in the history of basketball" and "one of the best White players I’ve ever seen." But in 1990, Jackie (Greg Finley) was a guy who partied way too much, shot off his mouth a lot, worked construction with his verbally abusive dad (David Arquette), and played streetball hoops whenever he could. When fellow borough boy Pete Vescey (Geoffrey Cantor), a New York Post sports writer, wrangles Jackie a tryout with the New Jersey Nets, Jackie thinks he has his ticket to the NBA. He puts in the work, training with the help of his longtime crush/new girlfriend Jenny (Ashley Greene). Meanwhile, Jackie's best friend, Marty (James Madio), keeps pulling him back to drinking, drugs, and crime. Then Jackie gets injured during his big tryout. Will he be able to live out his dream?

Is it any good?

Set mostly in 1990, this drama feels like a throwback to that decade -- it has the straightforward, literal style of a TV movie, though with a lot more swearing, drinking, and drugs. If you've never heard of Jackie Ryan, New York streetball, or the Harlem Wizards, go watch the Losers Netflix episode about him -- or dig up his Tedx talk. Then, if you're still interested in his story, press "play" on Blackjack: The Jackie Ryan Story. It will fill in some of the blanks about a basketball player who, the opening press montage tells us, was "one of the biggest wastes of talent in the history of basketball." And it certainly does evoke the vibe of that time in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, when it seemed like everyone's dad had a blue-collar job and Yuppies hadn't quite moved in.

As Blackjack begins, we see that Jackie's father doesn't want young Jackie to play basketball: "You know I hate that monkey ball," he says threateningly. Against the backdrop of Brooklyn protests around the 1989 killing of Yusef Hawkins, modern-day viewers may be primed to expect that race will emerge as a theme of the movie, and it does -- in a way that feels decidely uncomfortable today. As they watch the news, Jackie's family members comment, "So, what, now all White people are bad?" And overconfident Jackie is pitted against Gill Turner, a Black player from the same neighborhood who made it onto the Nets. Jackie expects the "neighborhood boys" to stick together, but Turner is consistently unsupportive and at a pivotal point explains why: "We all know why you keep getting second chances. We both know lots of Black guys could bust Jackie's ass but never get a chance." Blackjack ends with (spoiler alert) Jackie beating Turner in a one-on-one playground game as a crowd of locals cheers him on. The epilogue shows us that, years later, Jackie joined the Harlem Wizards (a team similar to the Globetrotters) and used his showman nature to became an entertainer rather than a competitive player. We don't see him overcoming his substance abuse and depression -- central to his achievement of joining the Harlem Wizards -- instead we see him overcoming a more accomplished guy from the neighborhood. It's a win that feels more like revenge than triumph.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what aspects of Jackie Ryan's life make succeeding on the court more challenging than those of other players. What role does basketball play in his overall happiness?

  • What's the goal of Blackjack? Does Jackie inspire you with his ability to persevere through adversity?

  • What do you think about the gender roles and how they're depicted in Black Jack?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love sports stories

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate