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"Coach Carter"

Directed by Thomas Carter.
Written by Mark Schwahn and John Gatins.
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Rob Brown, Antwon Tanner and Ashanti.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  1/30/05


As a sucker for the great American sports movie, I will almost always find myself front and center at a sports film the first weekend because I just love watching sports in any capacity...especially in one that combines my love for the movies with my love for basketball, baseball and football.

Along with the great "Friday Night Lights", "Coach Carter" extends a brief run of good high school sports films by mixing entertaining-yet-realistic sports action with the stable of off-the-field activities that help stretch the season...and the drama.  In Richmond, California, the school systems are atrocious...just like Richmond High's basketball program, which went 4-22 a season ago.  The following season, former high school All-America Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) is asked to coach the team, a team full of underachievers on and off the court.  Carter, who institutes a new system that requires the kids to maintain a 2.3 GPA so that they can qualify for college, gets a lot of backlash from the high school administration and the parents of the players...but, when the team starts winning, the kids start buying into Coach's system and bond as a unit in a way that screams "Hoosiers."

Using a similar formula to many other recent sports films, including "Friday Night Lights" and "Miracle", a small budget for big stars allows us one A-class lead actor, and Jackson is fantastic as the stern disciplinarian Carter.  Flashing that signature hard stare and raising his voice at almost every turn, Jackson looks like he is having fun while working with a serviceable script that doesn't rely on one-liners.  The rest of the cast are slightly familiar faces (along with big-name R&B star Ashanti) that fill up the parts of the players on the team; they feel just right, from Worm (Antwon Tanner), the off-guard with the love for the ladies, or Kenyon (Rob Brown), the head-in-its-right-place forward that is dealing with a pregnant girlfriend, or Cruz (Rick Gonzalez, who did show up in "Old School"), the Latino hothead that is trying to figure out if a life of drugs or a life of basketball is the right move.  Hell, there's even the coach's son Damien (Robert Ri'chard; yes, there's an apostrophe in his last name!), the model citizen that is fundamentally sound and taking all of the minutes at point guard as a freshman.

I loved the game action; the basketball is fluid, but as fluid as a good high school team might look.  The speed feels right for a high school game; some awkward shooting styles and roughshod dribble technique make the games feel very real.  I'll admit that some of the "kids" on the opposing teams looked more likely to be teachers at those schools; during the Bayside game, I thought two of the guys looked like they were in their late 20s.  But otherwise, the basketball was solid.  Also solid were the token high school parties...loved that in one of them, Mom and Dad actually did come home while the party was going on, busting all of the kids and their daughter along the way.  (Favorite line in the movie:  the token college-ready center (Nana Gbewonyo), talking to women at this party:  "Like I was saying before, girls, I'm Junior Battle...I'm the man, baby!!")  The hip-hop was a good mix of stuff, kid dancing looked good, and the machismo that 17-year-olds exhibit to the girls at a party like this was spot-on.  Not saying that I even went to any parties as a 17-year-old, but it all felt genuine.

I don't know, I'm thinking now of anything I really didn't like about "Coach Carter", and nothing of note comes to mind.  A very solid experience based on the real-life situation of Ken Carter during his coaching tenure in California, I even learned something during this movie, too.  Man, I wish more sports movies were this good...

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09