Coach Carter is precisely what it appears: One part Lean on Me, one part Hoosiers, a dash of Dead Poets Society, a smidgen of Dangerous Minds, and about a gallon and a half of hokum. The resulting concoction is about as interesting as vanilla cake, but it tastes all right, and it goes down easy enough.
Sam Jackson plays Coach Carter, an inner city basketball coach/sporting goods store owner, who takes on a faltering urban high school basketball team and predictably turns their year around. Jackson’s portrayal of Carter — inspired by a real Richmond, California basketball coach — is equal parts gravitas and melodrama, infusing just enough Jules Winfield into the character to make him interesting while holding back enough to make the character feel real.
Carter — like his real life counterpart — insists that his player sign a contract to play for the team, a contract that requires, among other things, that the students maintain a 2.3 GPA, high enough to qualify for college admission. Carter also calls his players “sir,” and demands the same respect in return, a plot contrivance that begs for the inspirational verbal salute near the end of the movie.
Carter’s players include a litany of urban kids with off-the-court personal problems, fleshed out just enough create all-too-obvious subplots: There is the serious-minded teen (Rob Brown) with the pregnant girlfriend (Ashanti); the burgeoning drug dealer with an overacting problem (Rick Gonzales); the illiterate, the white kid; and the coach’s son (Robert Ri’chard), who foregoes parochial school to play under his father tutelage. Each storyline serves to impart essentially the same message, namely to respect yourself, though respect, in this case, apparently does not involve acting classes.
As expected, Jackson does his inspiring speechifying, his players lose their attitude, and the hip-hop musical montage tracks the team through several winning games, up until the first of what must be 47 climactic scenes, in which the team wins a high school basketball tournament and caps an undefeated run. The movie, of course, does not end; otherwise it’d just be another run-of-the-mill sports movie. Instead, it morphs into a run-of-the-mill teacher movie when Coach Carter cancels all practice and games until the entire team lives up to their end of the grade-point contract. Sam Jackson gives some more speeches, the community bellyaches, a media circus begins, and the school board makes a big dramatic vote, resulting in the 26th over-the-top rousing, climactic scene.
The series of plots and subplots are nothing you haven’t seen before a hundred times on “Boston Public” or even Craig T. Nelson’s “Coach” but director Thomas Carter (no relation) weaves it all together satisfyingly enough to warrant the two-and-a-half hour film. The screenplay is painfully obvious, and the film’s “inspiration” is all but beat into your head with a meat tenderizer, but the film manages to be winning despite it all.
Coach Carter is like that cloying, overly earnest high school girlfriend that tends to try too hard — she’s irritating as hell, but, in the end, it’s difficult not to like her.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
Coach Carter / Dustin Rowles
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()