As its title suggests, "Coach Carter" belongs, with recent pictures like "Friday Night Lights" and "Remember the Titans," to that special subcategory of sports movies, the inspirational coach drama. More often than not, movies of this kind are based on - or, in the more common title-sequence idiom, "inspired by" - the real lives of men who turn ragged bunches of misfits into champions, or at least contenders, teaching valuable lessons about discipline and teamwork along the way.
Their stories, which march toward the big climactic game, pausing for uplifting speeches and off-the-field crises, are popular with audiences and also with actors. When they can no longer plausibly play professional athletes, male movie stars turn to on-screen coaching, which is rewarding and - in spite of all the yelling and speechifying - generally undemanding work. Gene Hackman did it in "Hoosiers," as did Denzel Washington in "Titans," Billy Bob Thornton in "Friday Night Lights," and, to stretch the category a little, Walter Matthau in "The Bad News Bears."
And now Samuel L. Jackson joins their clipboard-thumping, my-way-or-the-highway company, playing Ken Carter, real-life coach of a high school basketball team in the tough Northern California city of Richmond. In this solid, unsurprising film, Carter, who was an all-American at Richmond High in the 1970's, has become a successful local businessman, with a sporting-goods store, a midnight-blue sedan and a tidy Craftsman bungalow. He also has a wife (Debbi Morgan), who in coach-movie tradition has a few early lines of dialogue, after which she is relegated to the sidelines, where she bites her lip and pumps her fists at appropriate moments. The coach's son, Damien (Robert Ri'Chard), has a bit more screen time; he's a promising point guard who transfers from a prosperous parochial school - which is also a perennial basketball powerhouse - to play for his dad in the run-down Richmond gym.
"Coach Carter," directed by Thomas Carter...