Taking a cue from Eddie Murphy’s revival of his box office fortunes, if not his critical rep, Martin Lawrence teams up with Daddy Day Care director Steve Carr for this surprisingly bearable family comedy. Following an on-court incident with an opposing mascot, Coach Roy (Lawrence) gets hit with a lifetime ban by the college basketball brass (apparently graduates of the David Stern School of Sports Management). Seizing an opportunity to rehab his money-grubbing image, Roy returns to his old junior high to helm a team that hasn’t won a game since well before any of its current players were born. Lawrence coasts on star power, genially sending up his bad-boy persona. Early scenes hint at an elemental clash of worldviews, pitting the comedian’s cocksure attitude against the feminized educational sphere, but it’s soon clear that this one’s strictly for the kids—although those closer to the age of the movie’s misfit b-ballers may balk at its sanitized version of middle school hell. Patrick Warburton (
Seinfeld‘s Puddy) amuses in a one-note ‘roid rage turn as a rival coach, just barely clocking more screen time than Tom Arnold—as in last year’s far superior Mr. 3000, Fox wastes no opportunity to promote its TV programming, happily blurring the distinction between verisimilitude and shameless plugging.