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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

(Photo by Tracy Bennett, copyright 2004, Paramount Pictures, all rights reserved)

photo caption:
YOU'RE TRADING IN YOUR BASKETBALLS FOR BOOKS: Coach Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson, standing in the center) lays down the law to his basketball team when he learns in the middle of the school year that they are failing their classes.
end caption.

Coach Carter: Samuel L. Jackson Shines in True Tale of Tough Love

by Kam Williams

In the fall of 1998, Ken Carter, a distinguished alumnus of Richmond High, located in an impoverished working-class community north of San Francisco, agreed to coach his alma mater's struggling basketball team. Carter, a successful businessman who had set several school basketball records back in the 70s, took the position with the aim of instilling in his players the drive to achieve excellence on the court and in the classroom.

Aware of the poor prospects after graduation for the average athlete who focused on sports at the expense of academics, he had each of his players sign a contract in which they promised they would hand in all of their homework assignments, maintain at least a 2.3 grade point average, and not miss any classes. To prove his commitment to his players, he had his own son transfer to inner-city Richmond from a private school.

Initially, everything went well and the team was undefeated with a 13-0 record. However, when the coach received mid-term progress reports indicating that most of his team members were failing, he padlocked the gym and substituted books for basketballs. This outraged the players, their parents, and the rest of the local community and the ensuing calls for Carter's head received national attention.

The tensions surrounding this series of events are the basis for Coach Carter. Samuel L. Jackson, who seemed to be sleepwalking through many of his recent roles, found the fire needed to portray the charismatic title character convincingly.

Director Thomas Carter (Save the Last Dance) developed several compelling sub-plots in addition to the overarching "education over basketball" theme. For instance, one player, Kenyon (Rob Brown), matures quickly when he learns that his girlfriend is pregnant, and Timo (Rick Gonzalez), finds himself attracted to the fast money his drug-dealing cousin dangles in front of him if he will opt for a life on the wrong side of the law.

Because the film presents a fairly faithful rendering of actual events, don't expect a sugar-coated, "happily-ever-after" Hollywood finish. Coach Carter is satisfying because it transcends the usual sports film fare with its message that tough times call for tough love and tough measures.

Excellent (4 stars). Rating: PG-13 for sex, expletives, racial epithets, drug use, mature themes, and underage partying. Running time: 136 minutes. Studio: Paramount.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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