Sports movies have gotten to the point where the average viewer can predict what will happen and be right most of the time. If a formula is used enough, people know all the angles, and eventually no surprises are left. Nevertheless, recent sports films like Miracle and Coach Carter have succeeded despite covering this familiar ground. Why? Because they build up the characters instead of the sport. If the audience doesn't care about the players, the whole project's been in vain. Which brings us to Rebound, a 90-minute regurgitation of sports genre cliches. What could have been a genial, harmless family comedy giving Martin Lawrence a chance to pack up his trademark profane act and take a chance in kiddie territory is instead a lazy, dumbed-down, and dreadfully uninvolving clunker.
Lawrence plays Roy McCormick, a college basketball coach who's more concerned with his endorsement deals than with how his players are faring on the court (although with a team as lackluster as his, one would wonder why he gets handed so much money, but I digress). He's also one heck of a hothead, which gets him banned for life from his league after throwing a temper tantrum and, in the process, killing a rival team's mascot.
As you expect, Roy gets a second chance to prove himself worthy of being reinstated...in the form of coaching his old middle school basketball team, your basic Ragtag Bunch of Youngsters who can barely pull themselves together to pick up a ball, let alone play an entire game. Still, in the name of getting his old job back, Roy agrees to coach the Smelters (no kidding, that's actually the name of the team). But what began as a PR stunt ends up reigniting Roy's spirit, inspiring him to whip his team into shape, instilling them with a sense of confidence, and rediscovering for himself a love for the game.
Rebound is a movie whose plot can be described in a single sentence but, unfortunately, whose running time isn't that short. When I say, "Martin Lawrence coaches middle school basketball," that really is all the movie is about, just one scene after another where Lawrence and the kids do something goofy in a painful search for laughs. I know Rebound was designed with little kids as its target audience, but when I see such intelligent family fare as The Polar Express out on the market, I can't help wondering why stuff like Rebound ends up coming off so lazy and predictable.
Perhaps Rebound is just another case of studios beating a dead horse. Once upon a time, the concept of a bitter adult squaring off against a bunch of goofball kids was probably hilarious, but now, seeing a guy once considered a stand-up comedy maverick get slammed in the head with a basketball is just plain saddening. Lawrence is embarrassingly restrained and inoffensive in his part, and no effort is made to develop the kids other than to give them the tired personalities of ball-hog, tough girl, fat kid, nerdy kid, kid with glasses, and so on.
The sole laughs here come from Patrick Warburton's performance as a parent who gets waaaay too involved in his child's team. But even this isn't enough to rescue the rest of the film from the lifeless Lawrence, the thinly-developed kids, the sloppy romantic subplot between Roy and the mom of one of the kids, and Megan Mullally making it abundantly clear that she's as bored as the audience is with her turn as the school principal.
There are various theories concerning why people don't seem to be going to as many movies as they used to. My guess is that audiences are ready for more daring-than-usual material, but too many recent films are delivering the same ol' schtick viewers have been seeing for years. Rebound and the piddling box office reception it's received so far proves that youngsters and adults are wise enough not to spend $10 seeing a movie they've already seen before -- that, or they just think War of the Worlds looks cooler.
MY RATING: * (out of ****)
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated "PG" for mild language and thematic elements.)
Review also posted at www.ajhakari.com.