"Coach Carter" is another in the long line of inspirational-teacher stories to be taken from the headlines and adapted for the big screen, following the likes of "Dangerous Minds" (1995) and "Freedom Writers" (2007). It is always difficult to approach these types of films objectively because, too often, they are all essentially the same, following the same narrative structure, populated by the same characters, and filled with the same clichés. It must be said right off the bat that "Coach Carter" adds nothing new to this tried-and-true brand of feel-good cinema. What may slightly raise it a notch above other films of this ilk is the magnetic presence of Samuel L. Jackson, who is the movie's single recommendable aspect.
We all know the story by now. Jackson plays Ken Carter, the new basketball coach at an inner-city school where the students have been all but given up on by the school board (and, by extension, society). Over the course of one year, he will turn a team of undisciplined, ne'er-do-well basketball players into model students, do battle with a school board that is adamantly against the concept of education, and teach the entire community that their children have potential to be something other than criminals. It would all be dreadfully cloying and sentimental were Jackson not so commanding and forceful in his role.
Jackson has proven time and again that he is a star in every sense of the word. In addition to being a tremendous and forceful actor, he has charisma, comic timing, and attitude to burn, and even if the film is an absolute turkey, he is always fun to watch. "Coach Carter" is no exception. As the saintly coach who dedicates himself tirelessly to a group of students who often do not appreciate him, he is by turns intense, sympathetic, inspiring, and funny. In fact, he is almost too commanding to be convincing. Part of his struggle throughout the film is to get the students to buy into his overriding plan to make them into responsible adults and realize that basketball is not all there is to life. I know that if Samuel L. Jackson had walked into my high school and told me to drop and give him 100 pushups, I would have done it in a heartbeat, but somehow these students manage to buck him at every turn.
Beyond Jackson's performance, the film is competently directed by Thomas Carter and generally well acted by a young, largely unknown cast, but offers no challenges for its audience. Attempts to flesh out the student characters and provide a deeper look at their turbulent backgrounds produce mixed results. A subplot with pop star Ashanti as one player's pregnant girlfriend goes nowhere. More effective is the story of Timo Cruz (Rick Gonzalez), who quits the team, rejoins, quits again, and then re-rejoins after seeing the dead end that a career as a drug dealer has in store for him, although even this is utterly predictable. There is, of course, the requisite scene in which the players sneak away and get drunk at an all-night pool party. And there are some truly cringe-inducing scenes in which angry parents confront Coach Carter and protest that their children should not be forced to study, maintain a C-average, or God forbid wear ties on game days.
By the time the film gets around to Coach Carter imposing a "lockout" on his team, forbidding them from playing any games until they collectively meet the academic standards he set for them, it is all too obvious how it will turn out. This virtually obliterates the suspense, and at more than two hours, the film simply goes on way too long only to give us the ending we already knew was coming. The great wonder is that this movie, like the ones mentioned above, is based on a true story. Surely these real-life situations could not have been totally identical, yet all of the film adaptations could just as well have been based on the same teacher. How terribly ironic that the story of an educator who dared to challenge the mental capacity of his students can produce a film that so shamelessly spoon-feeds its audience.
Paramount Home Video has released "Coach Carter" in 1080p high definition, and the results are solid. Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, the picture is clear and crisp, with some fine grain present and only a few white speckles every now and then, but nothing distracting. Black levels are deep, colors rich, and details sharp. The image has good depth, and if it is not the most brilliant Blu-ray image (the visuals in the film are not overly spectacular), it is definitely the best this film can look on home video.
An English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack reproduces the dialogue nicely and clearly. The music and sound effects are largely subdued, so aside from the occasional rap song, there is not a lot going on. As with the picture quality, it's a good presentation of a fairly ordinary effort. There are also French and Spanish 5.1 tracks as well as English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles.
The first few supplements are carried over from the standard-definition release. First up is "Coach Carter: The Man Behind the Movie." This 20-minute featurette focuses on the real Ken Carter, featuring interviews with him, his family, and some of the former students who inspired characters in the film. Next is "Fast Break at Richmond High," a 12-minute look at the casting of the film and the choreography of the basketball sequences. This is followed by six deleted scenes, collectively lasting 12 minutes and adding nothing to the film.
The rest of the features on this Blu-ray disc are new to this edition. First, there is a music video for the song "Hope" by Twista and Faith Evans. "Writing Coach Carter: The Two Man Game" is an eight-minute featurette on the writing of the film and the challenge of having two writers (Mark Schwahn and John Gatins) complete the screenplay. The real mystery is how between the two of them, not a single original idea hit the screen. The 18-minute "Coach Carter: Making the Cut" provides a general overview of the making of the film. Finally, a theatrical trailer is presented in 1080p, the only bonus feature in high definition. This is all pretty standard stuff, interesting for those who like the film, but nothing revelatory.
If you like your inspirational stories formulaic and predictable, "Coach Carter" is the ticket. Samuel L. Jackson is excellent, but he's great in every film, so if he's your main interest, there are better movies to choose from. Paramount's Blu-ray presentation is commendable and a step above their standard-definition release, so it is worth the upgrade for fans.