On February 19th, Kobe Bryant became the first athlete to have his hand and footprints set in concrete at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
Releasing the same day was Kobe Bryant is the Black Mamba, Bryant’s six minute Nike commercial and collaboration with director Robert Rodriguez. Is it worth watching? Yes.
In fact, since the film is structured so that every step of the way is a surprise, I recommend you go watch it before reading this article (we’ve embedded it at the end of this article). There are spoilers from here on out.
Robert Rodriguez is the perfect director for a project like this. He’s known for quirky genre films, and he’s a master of incorporating digital video and FX work into his movies. Black Mamba is quite quirky, shot on digital and uses a lot of FX.
The film opens up with a story outside of the story. Robert Rodriguez meets Kobe Bryant to pitch him an idea for a short film about Black Mamba. As they describe it, we cut to the film proper. They keep talking and adding new elements—now Black Mamba has to fight the Crippler, now he has to meet with Mr. Suave, the henchman for the Boss, and so on like that.
This narration-outside-the-story is a stroke of genius, and it manages to elevate the whole project above being a simple, if expensive, shoe commercial.
For one, it instantly legitimizes what is essentially a vanity film for Bryant and Nike. Through the story-outside-the-story, Rodriguez explains that the commercial aspect of the movie isn’t a bad thing. The product placement is just a necessary evil to make a really cool short film. It’s patronage of the arts, basically.
The story-outside-the-story also lets the movie introduce bizarre elements like Danny Trejo’s the Crippler without it feeling too abrupt, and the narration sets up funny reveals, like Bryant’s bus exploding, or Trejo’s Jack Russell hostage.
Because of the meta-narrative, Rodriguez can cast stars like Danny Trejo, Bruce Willis and Kanye West and still make the movie feel like a fun fantasy between Bryant and Rodriguez, rather than something crass or commercial.
No one seems to be slumming here, or just picking up a paycheque. There’s a sense of real fun, just Bryant and Rodriguez dreaming up the coolest shoe commercial ever.
In fact, with Rodriguez’s involvement, the movie becomes a Rodriguez film, and the fantastical excesses seem par for the course. When Rodriguez directs a movie, you don’t bat an eye when Danny Trejo leaps out at Bryant with enormous prosthetic claws.
one of Rodriguez’s genre films, a neat little collaboration with Bryant,
Willis and West.