- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2005

Before Richard Linklater’s “Bad News Bears” remake comes out this summer, you can satisfy your underdog sports movie craving with “Rebound,” a for-the-whole-family comedy directed by Steve Carr.

Or (smarter move), you could wait.

“Rebound” revolves around basketball instead of baseball, but that’s a minor detail. When we first meet them, the middle-school squad stinks. By movie’s end, they don’t stink. They win a state championship. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

There’s a Martin Lawrence movie in the middle and, like all Martin Lawrence movies, there are some laughs that owe it all to the comedian’s mouthy personality, slurry speaking voice and physical tics, but nothing to clever writing. And the writing here — apparently a five-man job, from conception to scribbling — is baaad. So much so that even the children in the audience may smell the wet glue of the cut-and-paste screenplay.

Mr. Lawrence plays Roy McCormick, a hot-shot college coach with an impressive record but also with the hot temper of Bobby Knight in his chair-tossing Indiana University days. Mr. Knight choked players; McCormick chews out refs and knifes a basketball after a disputed call.

I think an entire movie of Mr. Lawrence abusing the men in stripes would’ve been much funnier. But that’s just me.

Anyway, after he’s canned and put on probation, McCormick’s simpering creep of an agent (Breckin Meyer) convinces him to take up his old junior-high school (in some semi-blighted Ohio ‘hood) on its offer to coach its basketball team. Except that the offer doesn’t really come from the school, which is too strapped for cash to afford a real coach and settles instead for a home-economics teacher played feebly by fat-guy funnyman Horatio Sanz. The offer is a forgery from team-captain Keith Ellis (Oren Williams), who is the squad’s only real talent and who’s sick of getting drubbed.

McCormick and his public relations minion see career-restoring, “giving back to the community” headlines emanating from the pro-bono job, and the school principal (“Will and Grace’s” Megan Mullally) is too jaded and budget-bothered to care much one way or the other.

The rest? Well, it’s all down a hill of cliches from there. McCormick, with his Pat-Riley-meets-P.-Diddy fashion sense, is initially blase about turning around the fortunes of the team, which includes a vomit-happy dweeb, a vision-impaired boy, the requisite chubby kid and an image-conscious pansy. But gradually, as the rules of movie sentimentality require, he comes around, seeing fit to recruit potential ringers such as man-girl Big Mac (Tara Correa) and junior giant Wes (Steven C. Parker).

At first, it’s the sting of losing, big, that inspires McCormick’s change of heart. But the $10 finale of “Rebound” is McCormick’s realization that — ready? — Having Fun is What Really Matters.

There’s a sputtering romance (McCormick with Keith’s single mom), too, but the PG-rating bars too much exploration there.

Don’t mean to sound too wised-up, but “Rebound” just isn’t that funny. Forced to toe the line of family comedy, Mr. Lawrence is as limp as a wet rag. Mr. Sanz — well, I still haven’t recovered from seeing him in “Boat Trip.” Blurry-eyed Patrick Warburton (of David Puddy/”Seinfeld” fame) scores some cheap giggles as the fulminating coach of an opposing middle-school team. The movie might have benefited with him in the top billing.

Mr. Carr’s claim to fame is directing the anodyne Eddie Murphy vehicle “Daddy Day Care.” His mission here was obviously to make Mr. Lawrence similarly safe for children.

Mr. Lawrence is safe, all right. A safe bet for a summer flop.

* 1/2

TITLE: “Rebound”

RATING: PG (Mild language; thematic elements)

CREDITS: Directed by Steve Carr. Produced by Robert Simonds. Story by William Wolff, Ed Decter and John J. Strauss. Screenplay by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. Cinematography by Glen MacPherson. Original music by Teddy Castellucci.

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes.

WEB SITE: www.reboundthemovie.com


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