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Too much talk keeps ‘Coach Carter’ from win

Brandon Hollihan | Monday, January 17, 2005

There’s a new reason to hate movie trailers, other than the fact that they all look the same and cinemas run thousands of them before the actual film begins. They make it increasingly hard to take Samuel L. Jackson seriously. For example, look at how he’s featured in the trailers for ‘Basic’ and the new ‘XXX’ film. He’s reached a point in his career that if a younger male talked smack to him, you would expect that he could pull out a shotgun, start raving about how great the Bible is, and no one in the audience would bat an eye, as he did in “Pulp Fiction.”That’s the greatest problem with Jackson’s recent film repertoire: going to one of his movies to hear what he is going to say, rather than what he is going to do. In this instance, “Coach Carter” is a great fit for the star; despite decent amounts of basketball footage, its stance is “less action, more talk.”The film is a biopic of coach Ken Carter of the Richmond High School basketball team, which is based in California’s Bay Area. In 1999 he made national headlines by padlocking the school gym and canceling numerous practices and games because, despite a perfect 13-0 record at the time, many of the players did not meet the minimum 2.3 GPA he required in a contract signed by all the players at the start of the season. The message to his players: regardless of what you’ve been told by media, friends or even family, there is a future after basketball, and you need to take advantage of it. The message inevitably draws backfire from the entire Richmond community, but eventually the coach wins the respect of his players.Much of this film consists of Jackson lecturing. He throws out statistics regarding academic achievements amongst African Americans, he browbeats his players when they become too cocky on the court, and he even has a straight one-on-one lecture early on in the film with his son (Robert Ri’chard). The lecturing is purposeful, as it tries to show what the real-life Carter is like, but much of it is tedious. It’s a big problem because it isn’t really what the audience came for. We want to see the young, cocky athletes transformed into a work force that looks distinctively different from the film’s beginning, but the collective arc of the character ensemble doesn’t extend far enough to make this happen.Part of that problem is attributed to all the negligible side plots that occur in the film, such as the team’s trip to a house party in the wealthy suburbs after a big win, one player’s (Robert Gonzales) connections to a local gang and another player (Rob Brown, “Finding Forrester”) trying to cope with a relationship with his pregnant girlfriend (Ashanti in her film debut). It’s right of the film to depict how these players live, but is it crucial to the heart of the story? Does it help move the film along?The answer is that it doesn’t, considering that ‘Coach Carter’ is about a half hour too long (136 minutes total). If it had cut out a lot of the unnecessary fluff, it could have been another strong sports film. See “Coach Carter” if you enjoy Jackson’s style of work, but dress comfortably for the long haul.