Coach Carter

Samuel L. Jackson is a cool cat. Even when he’s surrounded by a choir of sourpusses, Jackson always purrs. That’s why he’s cool. Like a cinematic savior, Jackson has the ability to walk on top of rather than wade through crap. Take Coach Carter, a formulaic, preachy high school basketball movie.

Jackson is the best thing about Coach Carter, another quasi-inspirational tale of inner-city youth who come together to win more than games and beat the other team, they’re out to win our hearts and beat the system that keeps them down. Unfortunately, we have seen this story so many times that it has become a cliche: kids who can pass a ball on the court but can’t pass a simple English test in the classroom.

Coach Ken Carter is cut from the same swatch as Principal Joe Clark in Lean on Me, a non-nonsense former student and star athlete of Richmond High School who agrees to return to his alma mater to turn their basketball program around. What Carter inherits is a ragtag group of kids who lack everything in their lives but the ability to play ball. Believing that conduct and grades are important as playing, Carter challenges his players, forcing them to sign a contract that in theory should turn them from punks to players.

All well and good, until the test scores arrive, and Carter learns that all of his hard work and effort was ignored. That’s when Carter does something remarkable: he padlocks the gym, forfeits games, angering a lot of people who see their kids as meal tickets. Faced with the reality that someone is not always going to pass them the ball, the students crack down and study.

Anyone who ever sat through a season of The White Shadow, or any of the socially significant inner-city dramas in theaters or on television will find Coach Carter familiar to the point of boredom. It’s difficult to rally behind characters who feel more like marionettes than people. Everyone and everything in Coach Carter is deigned to manipulate an emotion: anger, outrage, encouragement, hope, despair. Evoking emotion is one thing, shoving it down our throat is another.

Carter doesn’t stand on a soapbox, but sermonizes nonetheless. His words may be true, but have been said so often they become redundant. Jackson is earnest in his attempts to bring these moments to life, but writers Mark Schwahn and John Gatins do him no favors. These guys dont just connect the dots, they do so in ink, never allowing the actors to make the characters their own.

The players and their main squeezes are all thinly drawn and maintained, stock characters from the Dangerous Minds school of drama. The writers miss almost every opportunity to say something important, thus depriving their characters (and actors) voices that might have made a difference.

Dropping The Ball

Coach Carter Guilty of Dribbling


Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Ri’chard, Rob Brown, Debbi Morgan, Ashanti, Rick Gonzalez, Antwon Tanner. Directed by Thomas Carter. Rated PG-13. 140 Minutes.


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