This is as bad an acting job as I've ever seen from Samuel L. Jackson. Usually he just does that bad-ass role he's so accustomed to and audiences lick it up like cats with cream. Here, he plays Ken Carter, a real-life high school basketball coach who locked the gym during an undefeated season and forfeited several games until his players brought their grades up.
The scene where Carter gets the progress reports from the teachers is the most painful acting moment in Jackson's entire career. It's on a par with that Halle Berry catnip scene in "Catwoman." Carter gets the reports and it's like he just found out about genocide in Rwanda. He screams "Oh no!" and tosses the reports across the desk. Of course, it's right then that you know that he really cares about these kids. He really cares.
This film is "Stand and Deliver" on a basketball court. Nobody actually remembers "Stand and Deliver" of course, but that's what it is. In "Stand and Deliver," Edward James Olmos teaches a bunch of high school toughs to pass the Advanced Placement Test in Calculus. They do! And they believe in themselves! Here, Ken Carter teaches discipline and pride to a bunch of high school toughs and they win on the basketball court and in life. In the end, they all believe they can achieve anything!
Every single scene drips with the predictable syrup of the eventual resolution that everyone knows will take place. We already know it's not about the winning and losing. It's about how you play the game and the game in this film is life. Through discipline, exercise, and good language, Coach Carter teaches these kids how to win at life.
Unfortunately, all "Coach Carter" taught me was that I can actually scratch the first four verses of Revelations into the back of a theater chair with my fingernail in a little under two hours.
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