Coach Carter (2005) / Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, sexual content, language, and drug related material
Running Time: 136 min.
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Rob Brown, Robert Ri'chard, Rick Gonzalez, Ashanti, Denise Dowse, Antwon Tanner, Channing Tatum, Debbi Morgan
Director: Thomas Carter
Screenplay: Mark Schwahn, John Gatins
I'll admit, I have a soft spot for feel-good, inspirational sports films, but Coach Carter didn't quite have the stuff to win me over. This is a film without many surprises, going through predictable motions in the most formulaic of ways, and takes its sweet time doing it. So what makes it worse than most others that have tried to cover the same ground that I've given recommendations to? What it cuts down to is a double shot of implausibility mixed with too many subplots that bog down the momentum into "television movie of the week" fodder. It's a nice story, supposedly inspired by the true life story of coach Ken Carter, who in 1999, benched his team for poor academic performance. However in the end, there's nothing else out of the ordinary as far as high school sports dramas go.
Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson, Twisted) is a former basketball star who takes over for a friend retiring as a basketball coach for struggling, inner-city high school, Richmond High. He's not exactly entering a good situation, with a team that only won four of its 26 games the year before, players that are doing poorly in class (if they even show up at all), and a complete lack of fundamentals, not only in basketball, but just in basic common courtesy. His immediate solution is to have his players, as well as their parents, sign a contract whereby they must meet minimal educational goals, and also show respect for themselves and others, in order to remain on the team. Corralling the rebelliousness would be hard enough, but pressures from fellow educators, parents, and the media also come into play, as well as Carter's own son wanting a piece of the action.
Perhaps if the makers of Coach Carter had concentrated solely on the basketball vs. athletics aspect, a decent film may have resulted. Being an MTV production, I suppose the emphasis on parties, dances, and teen problems, such as drug dealing and teen pregnancy, proved too strong to ignore. The subject matter is noble, and easy to admire, but this one's presented in typical Hollywood fashion, with major turnarounds in personalities, and exciting games that seem to come down to the final buzzer whenever the story needs a lift.
Samuel L. Jackson gives a typical take-no-crap-and-yell-loudly performance, but within the context of the movie about a tough-as-nails coach, it is par for the course. Director Thomas Carter (Save the Last Dance, Metro), who played Hayward in the similarly inspirational basketball TV show of the late 70s, "The White Shadow" (he would also learn to direct during this stint), does a decent job, although a bit more uniqueness in style would have helped. When Jackson's in command, the film keeps your attention, but with cookie-cutter characterizations and uninspired situations, as the late Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn would say, "this one's in the refrigerator" long before the fourth quarter climax.
©2005 Vince Leo