Coach Carter

2005, Movie, PG-13, 136 mins


Samuel L. Jackson's powerhouse performance makes this otherwise conventional sports drama, derived from the made-for-the-movies story of self-made businessman Ken Carter, who bootstrapped himself out of poverty, then returned to his tough, impoverished high school to coach the basketball team. The Richmond Oilers are less a team than a pack of surly, selfish teen wolves looking to siphon off a little of the reflected glory accorded to serious players. Aging Coach White (Mel Winkler) can do nothing with the fighting, cursing, undisciplined and utterly disrespectful crew, who play every game as though it were a brawl waiting to happen. White appeals to Carter, whose success began with high school hoops glory, hoping he can be persuaded to come back and give back. Carter, for his part, is all for team sports — they help teach discipline, perseverance and the notion of subordinating personal ambition to the greater good of the group — but sees education as the cure for the multigenerational cycle of substance abuse, crime, poverty and diminished expectations. So Carter makes his players sign contracts committing them to punctuality, neatness, civility and maintaining a 2.3 GPA — a standard higher than the Board of Education-mandated threshold for participation in extracurricular activities. He doesn't bat an eye when the team's two highest-scoring players — arrogant, spoiled, foul-mouthed divas in training — walk rather than play by the new rules. He establishes a grueling training regimen; punishes back talk, slacking off and bad attitude with push-ups and sprints; and insists that players wear jackets and ties on game days. Carter's regimen works: Within months the Oilers are the Cinderella story of the hour. But when they get too big for their britches and begin flunking classes, Carter locks the gym, cancels practice and games and orders the student athletes to the library; the community is so outraged you half expect them to mass outside Carter's house with torches and pitchforks. Trapped in the shadow of Jackson's formidable charisma, the young actors don't get much individual screen time, though Nana Gbewonyo's talented but troubled Junior Battle; Rob Brown's hardworking Kenyon Stone, whose future is jeopardized by his girlfriend's (Ashanti) pregnancy; and Rick Gonzalez's volatile Timo Cruz, who's got one foot in the game and the other on the mean streets, stand out. This canny hybrid of HOOSIERS (1986) and STAND AND DELIVER (1988) has little new to say, but delivers its commendable message with affecting eloquence. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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