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Coach Carter (2005)

It begins on the street. It ends here.

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 136 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12a

If there’s one thing the movie world doesn’t have any need for, it’s yet another addition to the list of super-moralizing tales in which a new teacher arrives at a problem-stricken establishment and uses a loose cannon approach to straighten out a class-full of frowny-faced bad apples.

Ever seen Michelle Pfeiffer trying to put on her scary face as marine-turned-mentor in ‘Dangerous Minds’? Danny DeVito wheezing his chubby little way around an assault course to win over his military school pupils in ‘Renaissance Man’? Or even Goldie Hawn sticking it right up the blokes by out-jogging the entire football team in ‘Wildcats’? If you have, you should instinctively know that this is a sub-genre of film which has long since run its course. Yet here, in ‘Coach Carter’, we have Samuel L. Jackson somehow defying all the odds by managing to squeeze a genuinely entertaining and absorbing flick out of this long over-egged pudding.

Loosely-based on a true story from the late 90s, it stars a dappered-up Jacko as title character Ken Carter, a High School basketball legend who returns to the scene of his former triumphs as a worldy-wise coach. It’s not long before his predictably unconventional methods have the wannabe-gangsters in his team eating out of his hand – and, more importantly, winning games like they’re going out of fashion. But there’s trouble a-brewing when it becomes apparent that these playas-turned-players, while excelling on the court, are doing flunk-tastically badly in the classroom. So Coachy decides there’ll be no more fun and games until the good grades start rolling in – and that’s when the real problems start.

Whether you look upon this as a sports movie or a teacher’s tale, there’s little escaping the fact that this is not the sort of film that’s going to break any boundaries. It’s predictable, is what it is, and if you’re going into this one anticipating even the slightest break from tried-and-tested formula then I can offer you only one piece of advice: don’t.

But, flying in the face of all that, ‘Coach Carter’ works – and it’s predominantly because, from beginning to end, Sammy L. carries the film. Far too often of late he’s been guilty of accepting whatever old gig was on offer and then practically phoning in his performance, but this time you can tell he cares, and the result is unequivocally his strongest display in God knows how many years. No matter how weak and clichéd the characters surrounding him are, Jackson makes Carter a man so believable that you’re scared to take your eyes off him in case he makes you do 1000 push-ups and 500 laps of the cinema. I don’t know about you lot, but I’m just not fit enough to argue with that.

It's Got: Gangstas-by-numbers.

It Needs: A higher degree of originality than is probably even possible in a story as well-worn as this one.


Sammy L. turns this conventional schoolteacher flick into The Jackson Show, and it’s all the better for it.