| The Red Right Hand
Samuel L. Jackson
I've got to say this before we kick this review into motion: I am not a basketball fan, I took a stab at it in high school and got trounced often (which is odd because my figure denotes that I should be good at it) I've attempted to watch it on occasion but I'll be honest, it's really not my schtick at all. 'Coach Carter' is the new Thomas Carter movie (we have Carter to thank for Miami Vice and to blame for Metro & Save The Last Dance) and I have to say, for a director of such experience this film simply oozes with clichés and cringe-worthy moments. From the get-go you're not informed that this is based on a real person, a high school coach who caused some controversy and media interest when he closed the gym until the team got their grades up but maybe that's because Carter assumed everyone would already know, since this all happened in 1999 (clearly not caring to inform anyone outside of the US). It's interesting that Jackson chose this film over the proposed 50 Cent film (haha) loosely based upon his life. He publicly refused to do it because he didn't feel that the film provided 'role models.' The problem is that everyone in this film is a role model, to the extent that the whole thing seems so unbelievable.
The film starts off in a fairly simple way with flash-shots cutting between Carter [Jackson] closing his store and the Richmond/St. Francis basketball game, you see Carter arrive and take a seat in the stands. Richmond proceed to lose and a fight breaks out and that was when I saw the entire plot laid out before me: Carter takes over team, team get trained harder than ever before, some conflicts with personal lives, some parents, some studying, some winning and some terribly appallingly filmed sport footage, ending on a few freeze-frame moments explaining 'where they are now.' Unfortunately that's precisely what I got.
You have the kid that's great on the court but useless in the classroom, the one who's connected to crime, the cocky one, the son of the coach, this team has every high school sport cliché that you start to think you're watching a sequel to Not Another Teen Movie. The team's young array of actors manage to pull off the job fairly well (even if a few scenes have you grinding your teeth and wincing uncontrollably) sometimes rivalling Jackson, except Timo Cruz [Gonzalez] who starts out with a vocabulary of 'Yo' and 'Dawg' but after seeing his cousin getting shot becomes a philosopher blessed with the gift of words (I'm not exaggerating, he has this huge monologue about what he fears and the lights that shine in all men [I was later informed it's a quote from a speech by Nelson Mandela] - which he would have been beaten up (think Northern California) shot for saying if he had said it). Having said all that, their 'acting' does mostly consist of playing basketball and running up and down the gym. The only time they really get a chance to prove their worth is in their home-lives and at school, pity for them it's not delivered very well due to such a limited script. Even Jackson (an on-screen phenomenon) is crippled by being dealt the worst and despairingly familiar pep-talks and speeches, although he somehow manages to give them a 'badass' quality that he's become legendary for (cue applause for Pulp Fiction). Just to give you an idea, here's a few excerpts:
"This is our time, not theirs"
"I came to teach boys and you became men"
"I see a system that's designed for you to fail"
"You're here because you deserve this, but just 'cause you
deserve this don't mean they're going to give it to you" ..the list goes on.
My next little problem was the way this movie was filmed. Everything was a parade of male arm & torso or female arse & chest, followed by some absolutely dreadful slow-mo sequences, cutting between the ball (mid-air of course), the clock ticking away (seconds before the final whistle, naturally) and the looks on all the crowd as they hold their breath (sounding familiar yet?). Every time you get to thinking the plot will take a twist it's as if the MTV officials (Oh, did I forget to mention that? This film was produced by MTV, it all falls into place when you see the keystones) jump in and say, "Can't we just have a safe and predictable sequence?" Any good film can breathe new life into old over-used material, showing it in a new light, MTV simply don't want to.
The only two points I can think of that actually kept me in my seat until the end of the film (which we'll come back to in a moment) was the actual basketball games, although I don't have a love for the sport it provided the perfect break from whatever 'drama' was going on in the players lives or their constant 'studying' (I've put that in inverted commas because MTV's version of studying is always a montage filled with people looking at random, disorganised sheets of paper and giant open textbooks - either outside on a bench or inside a library). The other thing was Jackson, the only thing to really score for this film. Jackson really sinks into the role and makes him worth rooting for, you even have a slight smile as he delivers his dire speeches as the words "GO TEAM!" and "God bless America" run through your mind like broken records or propaganda broadcasts.
The end of the film was such a relief. I've sat through countless movies that have seemed endless or simply carried on for too long but the base of my spine was throbbing and my arse was raw. I wasn't exactly sure what the cause was but then was kindly informed that it's the fact that you're waiting for the end of the film for so long that your mind starts sending signals to your body informing it to limber up, it's nearly over and you'll be walking out soon. In my opinion there's one scene that had no reason to be there what-so-ever. After beating some team (the Cougars I think, they just play different coloured shirts, you don't really care about who they're playing really) and winning a ridiculous trophy the team sneak out of the Safari Inn and head to some slutty young rich girl's party. Why? What's the point of this whole scene? To show that the team celebrating this way is wrong? For sex appeal? To further the plot (!) Whatever the reason I blame it for allowing the film to drag on the way it did. The second culprit was the sub plot of Kenyon Stone's [Brown] pregnant girlfriend who tries to deal and/or compete with Stone's increasing fame and success. She (Kyra) is played by Ashanti in her first acting role. I have to say that she held her own rather well but in retrospect that's only because it was a somewhat flat, undemanding role. But as the film (finally) draws to a close and you see the team coming out of the locker room, heads held high, greeted by students, friends and family as the camera starts to freeze on certain players saying how they went on to graduate from college or something you start to think, 'College? Oh yeah! This is a film about HIGH SCHOOL basketball!' Sorry, for you to understand allow me to explain something. To those that haven't seen this film, the 'Big Game' was televised from this huge auditorium with hundreds of cheering spectators. For the Americans, no other country in the world glorifies the efforts of High School sport students to those extremes, it's simply unheard of. So even though they've achieved so much, it's so little on the grand scale - which in some ways shows that it's not the games that were won but lives but to say such a thing would be hypocritical of me, as I would be as cheesy and cliché as the film itself.
25 February 2005
The Scene To Look Out For:
Another training scene following a victorious game depicts the coach illustrating the value of team honour, how demeaning the opposition and taunting them is not the way of champions and winners. The way in which he does this is to shout, "WHOO! I DID THAT! THAT'S ALL 'BOUT ME!" This reaches a humorous peak when 'Worm' [Antwon Tanner] informs the coach that his shoe-lace is untied; Carter thanks him and proceeds to tie his shoe. On completion of this he proclaims, "DAMN! THAT'S A BOW! YOU SEE THAT!? I DID THAT! THAT BITCH'S ALL ME!" and as he walks over to Worm to high five him saying, "GIMME SOME!" Worm simply smiles and raises his hand, which is when Carter tells the team that he's kidding and that their goading is completely unnecessary.
Carter himself is the only role that works through the dire script, I believe solely thanks to Jackson's acting and the film is worth watching primarily for his character.
"In this state you're 80% more likely to go to prison than college"
In A Few Words:
"A film about a coach that helps bring a team victory - my, what an original concept"