Coach Carter

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The typical high school sports movie setup goes something like this: cheesy plot, buff 25-year-old actors pretending to be 16 and a script "based on a true story." Predictably, Coach Carter is not much different, although the cheese factor here is surprisingly tolerable.

Created by MTV Films, this flick is based on legendary basketball coach Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) who in 1999 benched his entire undefeated high school basketball team for having bad grades. While scholars may cheer, just about everyone in the tight-knit Richmond, Calif., community where the film takes place thinks Carter is a lunatic for focusing on grades instead of games —including the school’s principal.

After taking over a lackluster hoop squad that went 4-16 in the previous season, Carter steps in as the new head coach and shoots to turn his goofball players into student athletes — the key word being student. The film’s opening scene features Rick Gonzales, who easily gives the film’s best performance, challenging the high academic standards set by his new coach. In typical Samuel L. Jackson badass style, Carter ends the scene by slamming the player’s face into a wall.

It’s comical to see the coach punish his players with insane amounts of exercise. Carter claims his rigorous workout routine, which includes 2,000 push-ups a week, not only expands the boundaries of the human body but also the mind. He makes his players sign contracts stating they will maintain a 2.3 GPA, sit in the front row of all classes, and wear dress shirts and ties on game days. Slowly, his dogmatic tenets begin to seep in, and the team wins every game that they play. But when it’s revealed that the players haven’t been attending their classes, Carter padlocks the gym and cancels practices and games, in an attempt to make the team successful both on the court and in the classroom.

Naturally, Carter’s tough tactics work, and the team pulls their grades up in the course of a mere week — just one of the film’s many stretches. The players go from barely literate one week to instantaneous classroom scholars the next. Not to mention, no one ever misses a jump shot — the ball doesn’t even touch the rim. Come on.

One of the film’s random subplots involves Rob Brown (Finding Forrester) cooing over his high school love interest, Kyra, played by R&B singer Ashanti, who never should have been cast in the film. The two are expecting a baby and are more than a little unprepared. In the film’s boldest move, Ashanti’s character has an abortion. The role might crush her pro-life fan base, but it still can’t save Ashanti’s irksome role. Her character has little substance, and her screen presence needs some work. Then again, if standing around and looking pretty was all the director asked of her, she nails it.

If a Lean On Me-meets-Hoosiers film floats your boat, Coach Carter is for you. Audiences may be disappointed, however, if they’re expecting a happy ending.

Jonathan Cunningham writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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