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A&E >  Entertainment

‘Coach Carter’ plays sappy but sincere

Lisa Rose Newhouse News

Based on a true story, “Coach Carter” follows a hoops guru who leads his inner-city high school to an undefeated season but then halts the program when the kids fail to deliver on their promise to maintain a 2.3 grade point average.

The movie may consist of formulaic elements, but it excels on the strength of its cast and the sincerity of its message.

The coach (Samuel L. Jackson) believes the teens should set standards for themselves as athletes and as students, with the goal of graduating to college-level sports. Of course, his decision to padlock the gym until the team members improve their grades makes him wildly unpopular.

Director Thomas Carter (no relation) follows the usual game plan for this type of tale, telling a story of slam-dunk diamonds in the rough goaded to greatness by a tough-love team leader.

With its slow-motion shots of players strutting to the court and musically punctuated locker room sermons, the film looks like many sports yarns, not to mention educational fables such as “Lean on Me” and “Stand and Deliver.”

Jackson makes for a scary yet sympathetic main character. Even when Carter shouts slogans that ring of desperate screenwriting, Jackson’s brio powers the words. He raises the game for his teen co-stars, who shine in both athletic and dramatic scenes.

Kenyon (Rob Brown) has a pregnant girlfriend (Ashanti) and is trying to find a balance between his impending responsibilities and his MVP ambitions. Cruz (Rick Gonzalez) is tempted by the easy money of the drug trade, while Junior (Nana Gbewonyo) is struggling academically because of his poor reading skills.

Issues touched upon include the lack of positive role models in professional sports and the failings of an educational system that coddles star athletes. These points aren’t always well-stated, but it’s encouraging to see them addressed at all in popular entertainment.

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