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Film review

Shooting higher

Rebound could be bounce-back time for Martin Lawrence, whose basketball-coach character reveals a kinder, gentler, less raunchy inspiration.

By STEVE PERSALL
Published June 30, 2005


Rebound is a good title for Martin Lawrence's new movie, and not only because it's about basketball. It's also about time Lawrence got a decent bounce in his career after a string of critical and commercial flops.

Rebound isn't likely to be a box office hit; not while Hollywood suffers through its worst slump in 20 years. But it does suggest that Lawrence's best days onscreen aren't behind him, especially if he stays on the path Eddie Murphy blazed, the one not littered with raunchy gags. This is a sweeter, cleaner Martin Lawrence, nearly as funny as he is surprising.

Lawrence plays college hoops coach Roy McCormick, who goes from top of the heap to bottom of the barrel during the opening credits. Roy now is more interested in drawing endorsement checks than in drawing plays, prerecording a pep talk for his team because he has a fashion photo shoot. Too many angry outbursts during games lead to his being fired by the fictional National Collegiate Basketball Association. Roy needs another job, but first he needs to curb his temper.

Meanwhile, his former junior high school has a 12-year losing streak going, and it hasn't scored a point lately. No wonder, considering the misfits on the roster. Only one player, ball-hogging Keith Ellis (Oren Williams) appears to have any raw talent. Keith also has an attractive single mother, Jeanie (Wendy Raquel Robinson), who will become a reason for Roy to clean up his act when he volunteers to coach the team as a public relations ploy.

Las Vegas wouldn't accept bets on what happens in Rebound because it's so predictable. Anyone who saw The Mighty Ducks (youth hockey), Kicking & Screaming (youth soccer), Little Giants (youth football) or The Bad News Bears (youth baseball) knows Roy will round the team into shape for a big game against more talented poor sports and become a better person for doing it.

What makes Rebound work, at least to a minor extent, is Lawrence's willingness to share the spotlight with some amusing adolescent klutzes. One Love (Eddy Martin) is a budding narcissist. Ralph (Steven Anthony Lawrence) is as eager as he is homely. Roy scours the junior high halls for recruits and finds Big Mac (Tara Correa), a juvenile delinquent who's instantly intimidating, and Wes (Steven C. Parker), a shy guy whose extraordinary height makes him a good bluff during competition.

Adult co-stars also contribute, including sitcom veterans Megan Mullally (Will & Grace) as a hands-off principal, Patrick Warburton (Seinfeld) as the obligatory, obnoxious coaching rival, plus Breckin Meyer as Roy's opportunistic agent. None of their jokes will make the American Film Institute's list of great movie lines, but they're delivered with enthusiasm.

The movie hinges on Lawrence's ability to find ways other than blue language and bug-eyed expressions to garner laughs. Those tactics have apparently worn thin, and he's wise to adapt and reach out to a wider audience, the way Murphy did with The Nutty Professor and Dr. Dolittle. There's a sweeter persona in Lawrence than he has revealed until now, one that realizes goodness can be as appealing as acting bad. Rebound is a slight effort compared to most comedies, but Lawrence makes his case for being our Most Improved "Playa."

Rebound

Grade: B-

Director: Steve Carr

Cast: Martin Lawrence, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Breckin Meyer, Patrick Warburton, Megan Mullally, Horatio Sanz, Oren Williams, Steven Anthony Lawrence, Tara Correa

Screenplay: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Rating: PG; mild language, crude humor

Running time: 93 min.

[Last modified June 29, 2005, 09:43:07]


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