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Coach Carter

Starring Samuel L. Jackson and Ashanti
Screenplay by Mark Schwahn and John Gatins
Inspired by the life of Ken Carter
Directed by Thomas Carter

IN SHORT: Long, but worth the time. The first great movie of the year. [Rated PG-13 for Violence, Sexual Content, Language, Teen Partying and some Drug Material. 137 minutes]

Initially, we looked at the Rating description (above) and wondered how the heck this film could get a PG-13 rating, given that it's stuffed with enough four letter words (most beginning with the letter "s"?) to make even our urban ears get tired. The running time was enough to destroy our medically bad back, but we were preventatively pilled up, so y'all are advised to bring Tylenol or something if your vertebrae are running for the exits, as are ours. We're not exaggerating. Even the reg'lar folk were complaining about the run time, which is about the only thing we could complain about. And that being said . . .

Coach Carter is a great film that avoids racial or class stereotypes, avoids the rah-rah of movies like Rocky but still makes you care and keeps you entertained, and racks up a whole lineup of newbie stars who hold their own against Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson plays Ken Carter, a sporting goods dealer who is hired on for a couple of months to put the Richmond High School b'ball team back on track. It's a payback for the Coach as he had once set records at the school, still memorialized on banners hanging from the gymnasium ceiling. The team, as he gets it, is staffed by athletic punks who would rather throw fists than a basketball. They don't seem to respect their Coach. They don't respect each other -- the real reason they get their butts whupped every Friday -- and their opponents laugh all the way to the local and State Tournaments. The biggest, personal shock for the coach is the reaction of his own son Damien (Robert Ri'chard), who plays for top rated St Francis. That twist could mean several things, all of which happen early enough that we could spill 'em, but we won't. Those that want to let their minds wander and guess about it before shelling out the green are invited to do so.

The first meeting with the team does not go well. It is a film clip that has also been blasted all over ads and television, so we're not going to avoid this first act gem. When Carter first meets the team, he gets a bit physical -- a defensive reaction to a student attack. When the student complains that a teacher can't touch him, Carter replies (all together now...) "I'm not a teacher. I'm a basketball coach." That'll go down as one of the great lines of the year. Then Carter takes steps to ensure that the players know who's the boss.

Of the students on his team and/or in the general population of Richmond High, three are highlighted: the pair of senior star and potential pro Kenyon Stone (Rob Brown) who must deal with the unplanned pregnancy of girlfriend Kyra (Ashanti) and Timo Cruz (Rick Gonzales), a lesser player already setting up his post high school future as a drug dealer. Carter comes into conflict with all the principal players, but we only remember Worm (Antwon Tanner), for obvious reasons. On the other side of the locker room is Principal Garrison (Denise Dowse), more thrilled with a winning team than concerned that none of 'em feel any compulsion to show up for class.

What makes Coach Carter work so well is that, at its core, it isn't a movie about basketball. It's a movie about basketball as a means to an end. Carter makes each player sign a contract, specifying a GPA that must be met, a dress code, even which seats to plant in during regular classes. Simply, an undisciplined mind cannot function as part of a team and Carter is set to take whatever steps are necessary to turn his punks into self-respecting, growing, young adults. Those steps set him against not only the team, initially, but a whole wider universe as his methods begin to bear results.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Coach Carter, he would have paid . . .


Warnings about run time being noted, Cranky says see it.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.