Taking its cue from the life of Ken Carter, a California high school basketball coach who turned a team of underachievers into winners both on the court and in the classroom, Coach Carter
essentially serves up nothing that we haven't seen countless times before in the Stand and Deliver
⁄Lean on Me
⁄Remember the Titans
But even though it adds very little to that well-traveled inspirational genre, it goes to show that you can hit all the usual posts and still manage to stand out from the pack if you've got a guy the caliber of Samuel L. Jackson on your team.
Thanks mainly to his considerable presence, Coach Carter
works more effectively than expected, although, carrying the unnecessary weight of an almost 21⁄2-hour running time, it doesn't always move with the grace of a trained athlete.
The big question is how many people will come out and pay to see something that seems so familiar, however truthful the source or noble the intention. Obviously Paramount and Tollin⁄Robbins, the production team who has done well in this arena in the past with such movies as Varsity Blues
, are hoping for big turnouts, but the picture will probably have its greatest payoff on video.
Directed with a sturdy efficiency by Emmy winner Thomas Carter (Don King: Only in America
), who, incidentally, is not related to his subject, the film takes a straight-ahead approach in retelling the events that brought Ken Carter first cheers and then jeers in his efforts to turn around the members of the Richmond High Oilers.
When Carter Jackson
) returns to the school he attended -- still holding a number of his old team's records -- it's late 1998, and things at Richmond High have definitely taken a turn for the worse.
As it turns out, Carter has more than the basketball championship on his agenda. Sure, he successfully turns his team into contenders who have an enviable undefeated record, but when his players fail to keep their part of the bargain on the academic front -- he had them all sign contracts -- he padlocks the doors to the gym and benches the entire team until their grades improve.
That decision causes an uproar among parents and teachers alike, attracting national news coverage and assuring Carter a place in the inspirational sports movie pantheon.
The script, credited to One Tree Hill
creator Mark Schwahn and busy Tollins⁄Robbins scribe John Gatins
, Summer Catch
), gets the job done without really ever breaking a sweat on the originality front.
Although director Carter, who did well by Save the Last Dance
, occasionally allows the necessary element of tension to slacken and the movie never sufficiently builds to a crowd-rousing crescendo, he gets committed performances out of his young cast, including singer Ashanti, who makes an impressive acting debut as the pregnant girlfriend of one of the players.
But it's ultimately Jackson, with a winning combination of no-nonsense authority and quirky charisma, not to mention a love of flashy neckties, who breathes life into the film bearing his character's real name.
He makes Coach Carter a guy you'd like to meet, even though you could have sworn you've met him many times before.
Paramount Pictures presents an MTV Films Tollin/Robbins production
A Thomas Carter film
Credits: Director: Thomas Carter
Screenwriters: Mark Schwahn, John Gatins
Producers: Brian Robbins, Mike Tollin, David Gale
Executive producers: Van Toffler
, Thomas Carter, Sharla Sumpter
, Caitlin Scanlon
Director of photography: Sharone Meir
Production designer: Carlos Barbosa
Editor: Peter Berger
Costume designer: Debrae Little
Music: Trevor Rabin
Music supervisor: Jennifer Hawks
Casting: Sarah Halley Finn, Randi Hiller
Coach Ken Carter: Samuel L. Jackson
Damien Carter: Robert Ri'chard
Kenyan: Rob Brown
Tonya Carter: Debbi Morgan
Timo Cruz: Rick Gonzalez
Worm: Antwon Tanner
Junior Battle: Nana Gbewonyo
Jason Lyle: Channing Tatum
Maddux: Texas Battle
Principal Garrison: Denise Dowse
MPAA rating PG-13
Running time -- 140 minutes