COACH CARTER tells the inspiring true story of controversial high school basketball coach Ken Carter (Jackson). Making headlines for his emphasis on the importance of academics over athletics, Carter requests all the members of the team to sign contracts, promising to maintain a certain grade point average. When the players fail to live up to this agreement, Carter benches the entire team, locking the gym and forfeiting games to prove his point. This infuriates the community who sees this as a hindrance to the future professional athletic careers of the players. Through hard work and dedication, Carter eventually gets his point across to his team and the community, going above and beyond to ensure a solid academic future for his team.
Based on a true story of the man who locked his boys out of the gym until they focused on their schoolwork, this by-the-numbers crowd-pleaser holds together because a steely Samuel L. Jackson refuses to notice the parade of clichés he’s trumpeting (the dialogue sticks to platitudes like, “Success in here is the key to success out there”). Coach Ken Carter (Jackson) takes over an unruly team of Richmond, California basketball players and teaches them how to play–and behave–like champions. His plight, which pits him against an uncooperative school board and parents who’ve given up hope, holds some interest, but the film is too concerned with giving us a Big Game every twenty minutes or so. The teens all have the spark of life in them (including pop star Ashanti, who features in a surprisingly well-handled teen pregnancy subplot), though the film’s plodding familiarity means it’s never really rousing, adding up to simply a good-natured amalgam of Stand and Deliver, Hoosiers, Dangerous Minds, and even Dead Poet’s Society (one of the tougher players actually recites some inspirational poetry).–Steve Wiecking