Rated PG-13; Score ***
Bill Cosby wasn't a consultant on Coach Carter, but he might have been. Based on the life of the Richmond, Calif., high school coach who believed basketball was secondary to discipline, learning and personal responsibility, the film plays out like a Cosby-inspired catalog for African-American self-improvement. And it takes no prisoners.
But for all Coach Carter's moralizing, it is an eminently palatable drama, and Samuel L. Jackson is first-rate as Carter, a high-school basketball star-turned-local businessman who takes the coaching job for a paltry $1,500 and succeeds in turning bad boys into men.
There are certainly exceptions to be taken with the filmmaking, by Thomas Carter of Save the Last Dance (and a lot of TV). There's a pronounced lack of style to the off-court sequences. The subtexts (drugs, unwed pregnancy) feel superfluous and contrived, and Coach Carter's so-called student-athletes are never in the classroom.
But between the excellent game sequences, the film tackles several prickly issues: the casual use of the N-word; the abdication of parental responsibility (Carter is fought by the very people whose children he's helping); the tyranny of low expectations; and even that Cosby bugaboo, the Africanization of black American names. ("Loquisha?" one girl asks an expectant mother. "Why don't you just name her 'Food Stamp'"?)
Rated PG; Score *
Racing Stripes, a talking-critters comedy about a zebra who races against thoroughbreds, stumbles out of the gate.
There's an Italian-American wiseguy pelican (Joe Pantoliano), flies who wallow in horse manure (Steve Harvey and David Spade), a wily old goat (Whoopi Goldberg) and a wilier old pony (Dustin Hoffman). And they're all trying to find laughs in the idea of a short-legged zebra racing against the big boys in Kentucky horse country. There just aren't many.
"Stripes" is a zebra foal left behind when a circus passes near the Walsh Farm. Dad (Bruce Greenwood) takes him in. Daughter Channing (Hayden Panettiere) falls for him. There's a sad story behind this father and daughter. Mom died in a riding accident. Dad used to train racehorses. Now, he's barely hanging on to the farm, enduring the snipes of a wealthy breeder (Wendie Malick).
Stripes (voiced by Frankie Muniz) endures the taunts of the other farm animals, especially the horses, who never let him play any reindeer games.
But the goat and the pony believe in Stripes and, well, you know how this ends.
The movie fails the way most non-Disney animation fails. It casts "names" instead of voices. Only Snoop Dogg, as a drawling hound, scores: "Like my mama used to say, 'You can put your boots in the oven. But that don't make 'em biscuits.'" So true.
- Orlando Sentinel