Eric D. Snider

Rebound

For years I have thought Martin Lawrence's problem in movies is that he's too obnoxious and exasperating, so convinced of the inherency of his own hilarity that he never actually bothers to do anything funny. This is why, I thought, with the possible exception of "Bad Boys" in 1995, he has never starred in a good movie. (NEVER.)

But I may have to revise this theory. For in "Rebound," he is quite low-key and ordinary, playing something that approaches a real person, albeit a two-dimensional one. He's not over-the-top or loud. And guess what? He's still not funny. Now he's just boring.

I propose this man stop appearing in movies altogether.

Ah, but at least he isn't irritating. The movie's bad, but at least it isn't aggressively annoying. It has puke jokes, but hey -- no farts! Put those quotes in your ads, 20th Century Fox.

Lawrence plays Roy McCormick, famed hot-head coach of the Ohio Polytechnic University basketball team, a squad that used to win games until Roy became so preoccupied with his own fame and endorsement deals that he stopped being a good coach. The team is on a massive losing streak now, and so, after Roy's latest court-side misbehavior, the board of trustees has no reason to keep him around.

Luckily, his slimy agent Tim Fink (Breckin Meyer, whose streak of bad movies rivals Lawrence's) spots a loophole in the National College Basketball Association rules: Before Roy can be banned altogether from coaching, he has to be given another chance. The rules don't say it must be on the college level, though, and so Roy winds up coaching at his alma mater: Mt. Vernon Junior High School.

The kids on this middle school team are hopeless, of course. If they were the Bears instead of the Smelters, they would surely be Bad News. One of them, Keith (Oren Williams), has talent but is a ball hog. He's also African-American and has a single mom (Wendy Raquel Robinson), which means Roy has someone to fall in love with before the movie's over.

There are four other players, represented by their types: a fat kid, a near-blind kid, a cocky, image-conscious kid, and a kid who throws up when he gets nervous. I'll stop short of saying the kids are funny, but they are sweet in their way, and they give the film a sort of benign innocence.

The remaining blanks are filled in haphazardly. The team has never won a game, but then Roy trains them and gives them individual advice, and so they start winning, and they make it to the state playoffs, and selfish Roy becomes humble and doesn't miss his old lavish lifestyle, yada yada yada.

Interesting Thing No. 1: The way Fink finds out about the Mt. Vernon Junior High gig, by the way, is that the 13-year-old players send him a fax. He believes this to be a legitimate offer from the school board -- even though the fax is handwritten.

Interesting Thing No. 2: A school that Mt. Vernon plays against shows up in a team bus, painted with their school colors and bearing the word "VIKINGS" across it. What junior high school pours that kind of money into its basketball program? For that matter, what junior high school even HAS a basketball program?

Interesting Thing No. 3: There is a puzzling, embarrassing scene early on, when Roy is just beginning to whip the boys into shape. A friend of his, a pimped-out holy-roller preacher, shows up at practice to say a prayer for the kids. This preacher is played by Martin Lawrence himself, with gold teeth and a ridiculous wig. The scene is not funny. The character does not figure into the story later on. I'm mystified as to why Lawrence was allowed to include it (for surely he was Lawrence's own creation and did not come from Jon Lucas and Scott Moore's screenplay, half-arsed though it may have been). Is it in his contract that, if he must play a non-clowning character, he must also be allowed to dress up and do somethin' zany, too?

Steve Carr, who helmed this lazy mess, lucked out with the casting of Megan Mullally (Karen on "Will & Grace") as the school principal and Patrick Warburton as the coach at Roy's rival school. Both have a gift for wry comedy and bring more to their few lines than Lawrence does to any of his hundreds. Carr also directed "Daddy Day Care" and "Dr. Dolittle 2" -- both Eddie Murphy projects, which means he's used to working with egotistical actors who want to play all the roles themselves. I feel bad for him.

Grade: D+

Rated PG, a couple 'damns,' mild vulgarity

1 hr., 26 min.

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