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COACH CARTER

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Inspired by a true story, this sports drama follows a basketball coach (Samuel L. Jackson) at a tough high school, who demands his players lead productive academic lives off the court. Thomas Carter's overly long film is the predictable round-up of clichés that define the inspirational-teacher genre, from the secretly sensitive tough kid and the big game to the various inter-personal showdowns and pep talks. (I was checking them off on an imaginary list, but the high school kids in the theater were eating them up with pleasure.) Jackson is superior to this material, but that hardly makes his presence unwelcome: He owns the screen when he's on it. And it's hard to totally fault a film that, while dealing in some level of wistful fantasy about "fixing" today's troubled teens, at least proffers a positive message about hard work, personal accountability and aiming for the future.

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