Sports movies always seem to find themselves a large audience. When presented in a way that specifically caters to the prime demographic of young folk, it’s almost certain that it will be a hit. Enter MTV Films with their latest addition to the cinematic realm of youth pandering. Coach Carter creates a new millennium hybrid of Dangerous Minds and Hoosiers, beating its message into you like a Pistons/Pacers steel cage match.
Based on the true story of Coach Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) and high school basketball team the Richmond Oilers, Coach Carter centers on a reluctant coach as he takes the job as the team’s skipper. Coach Carter, alongside his freshman, ex-prep school son (Robert Ri’chard), slowly begins to turn the team from inner city losers into student athletes. Key word: student. Carter’s rigorous workout routine not only stretches the boundaries of the human body but also the mind. When the team and their parents cause a stir concerning how grades aren’t as important as a little “hoops”, Carter locks down the gym, canceling practices and games in an attempt to make the Oilers winners both on and off the court.
While the message this film gives is a smart one, it seems like everyone except Carter just doesn’t get it. He is coaching in a neighborhood full of morons. From day one he says that education is the most important thing, you would think parents would embrace that given that the Richmond school district has a high crime as well as a high drop out rate. But no, the parents protest his actions in favor of the only way their children can get out of the ghetto, by falling into the stereotype of either NBA player or rapper. What?! It is because of this sort of community wide ignorance that the message of scholastic importance is rigorously beaten to death all throughout the entire movie. But of course, in true Hollywood fashion, in the end they see the error of their ways, and prepare to move on to a higher education....aka the NCAA.
Jackson makes this thing work. Without him Coach Carter would just have been an urban after school special. In true Samuel L. Jackson fashion, he is a bad ass, but at the same time a motivator. A motivational bad ass if you will. His presence is commanding, and he looks as though he could easily snap you in two if you test his methods. Like a good drill sergeant, he turns his of band playa haters into participaters, uniting them into a team.
Recording artist Ashanti makes her feature film debut in a supporting role here, a move on the studios part to obviously cater to their preferred demographic. At first she does a pretty decent job, but about two minutes into seeing her you get aggravated. She’s the pregnant girlfriend of one the team’s best players (Rob Brown), and every subsequent scene in which she showed up I found myself wanting to slap her for being such a ghetto bi-atch determined to tie the man down. She is just so annoying that you wonder what the hell he saw in her in the first place.
The rest of the cast do their best to play the roles designated to them. Some are mostly stereotypical, some are just great to watch. Robert Ri’chard is the Coach’s son, and rather than be the “teacher’s pet” he has to work to gain the team’s respect. It’s essentially the Andre Brougher role in Glory, one where the learned soldier has to pay his dues. When done right, that is always the best part to both play, and to watch. Ri’chard is an actor to look out for in the future, most definitely.
Director Thomas Carter, no relation, is at the helm for this basketball movie. His last flick for MTV films was the 2001 hit Save the Last Dance. That chick flick about the ghetto ballerina set to fulfill her dream parallels some of Coach Carter. In both films, the characters want out of their urban prisons and escape after some rising and falling to all the highs and lows of life in the ‘hood. Thomas Carter’s work here, specifically in the basketball scenes, is somewhat good... there’s a lot of potential here…but when the script dives into those juicy character scenes the film drags. Some more time in the editing room might solve this problem. The movie clocked in a little over two hours, trim the fat and Coach Carter could go from being plain good to very good.
Don’t go into this film expecting the next “classic” that every damn movie with a sport in it tends to be deemed as lately. Coach Carter is a mildly entertaining film that will make you afraid to skip class for fear of an ass whopppin’ from a “Bad Motherf**er”. But with so much better stuff out there to choose from, don’t make it your first choice. Maybe give it a rent when it comes to DVD.