Film

Film

by

Even if America grew sick of The White Shadow within three seasons, its unavoidable return was assured when former cast member Thomas Carter learned about the similar story of Ken Carter and his rags-to-riches basketball squad. Replacing milquetoast Ken Howard with timeworn hardass Samuel L. Jackson, this Backboard Jungle keeps with the subgenre: A former high school athlete returns to his inner-city alma mater, shakes some life into the neglected team, delivers down-to-the-wire wins, and makes it possible for title cards to announce illustrious futures for the students (played by TV actors, models, and singers). Having learned his craft from episodic television, director Carter structures the story in five half-hour blocks, each with a final message for the audience. A player turns to crime, a girlfriend gets pregnant, the coach cracks down on grades, the team sneaks out to a party, and—with all the fanfare of the season finale—they play the Big Game (and learn that winning isn’t everything). Holding all this commotion together, Jackson screams, sneers, and speechifies his way through a performance that’s somehow equal parts George C. Scott in Patton and Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. But he’s presiding over a film without an audience—too vicious to speak to bleeding-heart liberals, too pro-academia to speak to No Child Left Behind advocates, and too preachy to speak to youths. Proudly wearing its self-righteousness like a letterman jacket, Coach Carter‘s just an exasperatingly long “The More You Know” commercial starring one first-stringer and the junior varsity.