This latest, largely commendable entry in what might be dubbed the "Education Is Good" School of Cinema tells the inspirational true-life story of Ken Carter, a tough-talking high school basketball coach in gritty Richmond, Calif. "I will do everything in my power to get you to college and a better life," Carter (Jackson) promises his team, comprised mostly of at-risk underachievers.
Carter insists that his students do well not only on the court but also in the classroom—and there's the rub. When he benches the entire team, then undefeated, because several members have fallen behind academically, parents and even some faculty cause a stink.
As he proved with 2001's Save the Last Dance, director Thomas Carter has mastered making movies that, while taking teens and their problems oh so seriously, don't exclude adult viewers. Coach's fundamentals, like those Carter teaches, are sound, despite trying to cram in more subplots than necessary, resulting in a stretched two-hour-plus running time. The ever reliable Jackson gives a strong, forceful performance, and there's sensitive work by Brown (Finding Forrester) as a promising player with a pregnant girlfriend (singer Ashanti). The fledgling actress projects a winning vivacity. (PG-13)