Publicity Stills of "Coach Carter"
(Courtesy from UIP)

Genre: Drama
Director: Thomas Carter
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Ri’chard, Rob Brown, Ashanti and Debbi Morgan
RunTime: 2 hrs 16 mins
Released By: UIP
Rating: PG

Release Date: 28 April 2005

Synopsis :

Tension mounted as the Richmond High Oilers faced the upcoming basketball championship. The town was wild with excitement over their undefeated team and the bleachers were filled with cheering fans for every game. No one could imagine that on January 4, 1999 the community would erupt in dissention and so many lives would change forever when Coach Ken Carter padlocked the gym, refusing the players access for failing to keep up their grades.
Inspired by a true story, “Coach Carter” is an inspirational account of controversial high school basketball coach Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson), who received both high praise and staunch criticism when he made national news for benching his entire undefeated team for poor academic performance. Set in Richmond, California, this rousing, heartfelt portrayal of human courage and conviction is about overcoming the obstacles of your environment and showing young men a future that stretches beyond gangs, drugs, prison, and yes…even basketball.

Movie Review:

Ken Carter is Richmond High School’s newly appointed basketball coach. Tough as nails and with a vision to match, he takes on the all but impossible task of reforming the seemingly hopeless team of foul-mouthed jocks. His controversial methods take him on a crusade against the rebellious players, their indignant parents, offended teachers and most of all, “a system that [was] designed for [the students] to fail.” When the coach’s iron-fisted approach gains momentum after initial defiance from players and parents alike, the team that couldn’t stop losing last season embarks on a winning streak.

Is it formulaic? Yes. Boring? Not quite. Besides the age-old story of inspirational mentor versus problematic students, “Coach Carter” surprises yet with a potentially illuminating message. It is sad then, that the film overexposes itself and falls into the dreaded category of being a mere crowd-pleaser.

And pleases it does - “Coach Carter” is consistently funny and drives on at a comfortable pace. An entertaining assortment of characters round up the basketball team, whose musings and goofy antics are both comical and endearing. The basketball scenes are engaging enough but if you’re a ball fan or a fan of basketball fiction, they can seem slightly uninventive.

Respite comes from Samuel L. Jackson, whose magnetic performance nulls the bore factor of his character’s cliché. So dynamic is he that whenever Carter walks in, everyone sits up to listen. It is fortunate that Jackson was cast - his belief in the film’s message is heartfelt and palpable, his affecting performance dignified but not preachy.

Based on a true story, Carter and his team received news coverage in 1999 when he dramatically closed down the school gym and forfeited matches after his players failed to fulfill a contractual promise to do well in their studies. Refusing to indulge in the community’s belief that basketball was a safer bet for their children’s future than studies, the coach set out to impose the meaning of “student athlete” on the Richmond community. His mantra of “student first, athlete second” is the telling and provoking message that could have launched this movie from mediocrity to greatness - in a community where children were more likely to end up in prison than in college, and the NBA was deemed more realistic than actual jobs, Ken Carter dashed futile dreams and built, instead, lives, successfully sending the boys off to further studies.

At over two hours, “Coach Carter” is definitely delayed by some ambiguous subplots involving Timo (Rick Gonzalez) and his affiliations with the local gang scene as well as a pregnant girlfriend played by Ashanti. The problem with these subplots is that they are contrived, trite and abundantly useless. It is obvious that “Coach Carter”, to its credit, has tried to reach out to youths by dealing with several pressing teen issues all at once. However, as the sub-stories do no more than lend legitimacy to the players’ lives outside of basketball and impede the plot’s progress, the impact is dull and vague.

Simply put, the over commercialization hinders the film. Where subtlety would have worked, Hollywood took over - there are big rousing speeches, attitudes clashing, players rebelling and all that jazz. It appears to be taking risks but its eagerness to please fails to take the film far from its comfort zone: endeavours at thinking out of the box merely culminates into a lingering presence around stereotyped peripheries. The message and heart of the film is resounding clear and enjoyable in the moment, yet “Coach Carter” falls short of becoming the moving multi-layered drama it could have been, leaving a flat and unsatisfying aftertaste.

Indeed, the saving grace of the film lies in Ken Carter’s stirring dignity and Jackson’s competent turn. The leading man’s convincing and passionate delivery proved to be the film’s emotional anchor. A true crowd pleaser, ”Coach Carter” is definitely likeable but less likely memorable. At the end of the show, you would have felt entertained and perhaps even moved but it’s probably nothing you haven’t seen.

Movie Rating: B-

Review by Angeline Chui

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