The film is "based upon" the life of Coach Ken Carter, played by Samuel L. Jackson. In 1999, Carter benched his undefeated high school basketball team because they were screwing up in their studies, and somebody out there thought it should inspire a 136-minute film. Don't get me wrong; I like long movies, but only when there's enough solid material to keep things flowing for that length of time. Coach Carter has 90-minute film written all over it, and by the time it passes that two-hour mark, the butt starts hurting.
When Jackson's fiery Carter first shows up on the job, it's fun to watch him whip a small group of young punks into shape. On the physical side, he makes them run "suicides" and perform an unusual amount of push-ups. As for the brains side, the kids are required to sign an agreement in which they promise to maintain a 2.3 GPA, which winds up being a little bit of a problem deep into their undefeated basketball season.
It's when Carter benches his players that the film goes from being a cool, scrappy underdog sports film into something a little more schmaltzy. Subplots involving teen pregnancy (appallingly handled) and grouchy parents pad the film rather than enhance it, and director Thomas Carter would've done the world some good by letting about 45 minutes stay on the cutting room floor. This is why we have DVDs!
When Jackson is given a role deserving of him, he can pretty much carry a film, and he almost accomplishes that very feat with Coach Carter. He provides the character with much believability, and there isn't a moment when the guy doesn't seem to be giving 100 percent. I also like that the screenplay allows Carter to have his flaws. One of the film's best moments is when Carter's son (Robert Ri'chard) must calm down his father in the street after a pedestrian spits on his car.
You know, just as I wrote the above paragraph, I realized one of the film's biggest flaws: The relationship between Carter and his son is very well-handled, but not given enough time. With all the hackneyed crap that makes it into the film, it's surprising that director Carter didn't give more time to the father and son relationship. It's a part of the film that works nicely, and a deeper examination of their relationship would've been far more interesting than yet another after-school special about teen pregnancy.
The basketball action is great but also surprisingly sparse considering how freaking long this movie is. Director Carter knows his way around a basketball gym, and I found myself wanting to watch some ball rather than all the talky crap. I really don't care about some juvenile delinquent's cliché gangbanging bullshit when there are some good jump shots to be had.
There's a good movie in here buried under a bunch of derivative crap. If you were to focus on the good work by Jackson and the decent yet miniscule sports action, you might feel slightly fulfilled. If you focus on the fact that the film is about an hour longer than it needs to be, you might find yourself getting a little anxious. I fall into the latter category.