Cinema Signal:

America's Complete Sports Scholarship Guide:
Athletic And Academic
By Mark Bercik

. "Coach Carter"

Fitting into the genre pattern of "Dangerous Minds" and, even, "Les Choriste," this latest "save the delinquents" rescue does its job of warming the heart. You take a group of misbehavers, make them somehow sympathetic, and watch as they overcome odds and turn themselves around. So many of these claim to be based on true stories. This one does, too.

But there's a catch. The credit is "inspired by the life of Coach Ken Carter." If that feels to you like a loose rendering, it's probably because it is. Which is why it also feels formulaic, stereotypical, and entirely preedictable.

Putting the negative vibes aside and dwelling instead on the good intentions, we come to the side of Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson), a store owner and an acclaimed basketball alumnus of Richmond High. So it is that the current team coach asks him to take over the position, though not without warning him of the problems with a team that won ony 4 games the previous season.

He thinks about it and he takes it, asking only that he will be allowed to do it his way. Not allowing his listless group of underachievers called a team to thwart him in any way or style, he obliges each member to sign his contract or clear out. It requires that they maintain at least a 2.3 Grade Point Average and behave with respect and dignity.

His rules come with teeth, rather extreme ones. Infractions are erased with 500 pushups or more, and a great many "suicide" drills. There's of course a purpose behind his emphasis on conditioning, knowing that it will make the difference on the court against teams of inferior fitness. Of course, their first game is a win because of that disparity, and the team members begin to develop some appreciation for the man requiring so much of them.

Stories like these are only as good as the individual dramas, and it follows several characters closely, though their interest level is somewhat below the curve of a TV sitcom. Kenyon Stone (Rob Brown, "Finding Forrester"), a level headed young man, has impregnated his demanding girlfriend Kyra (Ashanti). His problem is figuring out how to handle his dream of college basketball and being a dad.

Damien Carter (Robert Ri'chard), the coach's son, has to figure out how he's going to get on his dad's team when the old man wants him to attend a better school. Timo Cruz (Rick Gonzalez), the incipient drug dealer of the lot and the closest to an immediate life of crime, has to pay penance when he realizes the team more than the streets. His penalty for going astray is punishing and man-building and produces the first sign of incipient team spirit.

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The Blu-ray Edition DVD

  • Coach Carter: The Man Behind the Movie
  • Fast Break at Ridgmond High
  • 6 Deleted scenes
  • "Hope" Music video by Twista featuring Faith Evans
  • Writing Coach Carter: The Two-man Game
  • Coach Carter: Making the Cut
  • Theatrical trailer in HD
    The Soundtrack
  • Then there's... well, you get the idea. Personal mountains to climb, steady team victories, a taskmaster who is almost taken down by a community that puts basketball before anything and is willing to lose their coach over it, lukewarm drama.

    But tell that to director Thomas Carter. Trouble is, he and his writing team of Mark Schwahn and John Gatins are too busy sermonizing to listen. Their love of this material drove them into a preposterous 135 minute running time, a penalty that feels all too much like one of the coach's remedies for delinquency or disrespect and not enough like the discipline their own character stands for. I say to them: remember what you had him say, "Success in here is the key to success out there."

    I assign them each 1500 pushups and 2500 suicides, by Friday.

                                          ~~  Jules Brenner  

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