Having exhausted his regular on-screen persona of a hot-tempered, racially-obsessed protagonist who plays his hatred for laughs, Martin Lawrence goes the Eddie Murphy route with "Rebound," a formulaic family sports comedy so inept on every level that it hits the bottom-of-the-barrel by the halfway point and then proceeds to scrape and claw a hole into said barrel's bottom. By the end, the hole has reached six feet deep, perfect for a cinematic burial that comes precisely 87 minutes too late.
Race thankfully stays out of the picture this time, but otherwise Lawrence (2003's "National Security
") is playing the same kind of role he always does, albeit with an unmistakable air of heavy boredom. This time he is Roy McCormick, a once-successful college basketball coach who is sacked after a losing streak and bad attitude gets him into hot water. To prove he still has what it takes to be a major player in the world of sports, Roy finds himself the new coach of Mount Vernon Junior High's basketball team. Most of the kids, which include unofficial squad leader Keith (Oren Williams); serial vomiter Ralph (Steven Anthony Lawrence); shoe-obsessed "One Love" (Eddy Martin); meek six-foot-two Wes (Steven Christopher Parker) and daunting-female-bully-with-a-heart-of-gold Big Mac (Tara Correa), are in serious need of training, so bad that the team hasn't won a single game in twelve years. With some help from Royand a little superficial bonding along the waythe kids experience a sudden turnaround that takes them all the way to the championships.
Will they win the big game? Will Roy discover his true passion for mentoring children? Will Roy fall for Keith's beautiful single mother, Jeanie (Wendy Raquel Robinson), a music teacher at the school whose hesitancy of Roy's intentions segues to romantic feelings? Will salty Principal Walsh (Megan Mullally) mysteriously disappear in the middle of the second act, never to be seen or heard from again and without so much as an appearance on the side of a milk carton? Will the movie be so shamelessly derivative, unfunny, lame, charmless and predictable that, on the basis of the preview screening I attended, even the target demographic of 8-to-12-year-old males will have likely grown antsy by the arrival of the climax? Are basketballs dribbled?
Director Steve Carr, who played a part in emasculating Eddie Murphy's once-respectable film career with 2001's "Dr. Dolittle 2
" and 2003's "Daddy Day Care
," has done it again with Martin Lawrence, the only difference being that Lawrence has never appeared in anything that might raise his resumé to the level of respectable. Because of this, "Rebound" isn't so much a step down for the actor as it is a continuation of a career that has remained lackluster and devoid of elasticity. In the annals of sports comedies involving kids, however, the film is a step down. Shallow and desperate, its comic high being an awkward facial expression the very tall Wes makes and its pinnacle of wit being when a door opens in front of a character, smashing a cupcake in his face, "Rebound" is irredeemable conventionality at its most slothful and bland.
It is the type of film in which none of the characters have lives outside of the basketball plot, are never seen doing anything other than what is required of them to press the screenplay forward, and yet don't manage to do anything memorable on the basketball court either. It is the type of movie in which none of the kids, save for Keith, seem to have parents or families or classes at school. It is the kind of movie in which a ball to the head or the groin is repeated at least twenty times in hopes that it gets funnier with age; in actuality, it isn't staged well or the least bit humorous the first time, and only gets more unctuous the more director Steve Carr relies on it to garner laughs. It is the type of movie in which the viewer is lead to believe the 13-year-old players' games get better through Roy's keen training skills, despite almost no training scenes of consequence on display, and certainly none that would help them to the point of making it to the championship. And, it's the type of movie where whether the team wins or loses comes down to a critical two-shot penalty, all the while the crowds cheer from the stands and the opposing drill sergeant-like coach (Patrick Warburton) looks on.
The cast of wall-to-wall big talents are so grossly misused that a warrant should be sent out for the arrests of inadequate screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore and director Carr. How Carr handles actors Breckin Meyer (2005's "Herbie: Fully Loaded
"), as Roy's hot-shot manager Tim Fink; Horatio Sanz (TV's "Saturday Night Live," 2002's "Boat Trip
"), as clumsy assistant coach Mr. Newirth; and Megan Mullally (TV's "Will & Grace," 2002's "Stealing Harvard
"), as Principal Walsh, is so haphazard it might just make viewers who are fans of any of these performers downright angry. Sanz's natural comic abilities are siphoned by a nothing part that makes it seem like he's not even there, Meyer's role is thankless and actually pointless, and the brilliant Mullally continues her disappointing filmography with yet another project that has no idea what to do with her one-of-a-kind presence and on-target comedic intuition. Mullally's Principal Walsh is set up as a major character in the beginning, as she elects Jeanie to be her eyes and ears to Roy's interaction with the students, but this subplot is dropped right afterwards and nothing is done with it. Mullally, too, doesn't get to so much wrap up her role as she is simply written out, never to appear again.
On these grounds and much more, "Rebound" is despicably lazy junk food without the benefit of an attractive taste, and the worst family feature so far this year. As a coach-student bonding flick, "Rebound" strikes the same one-dimensional note throughout. The kids are types rather than feel real, and Martin Lawrence reminds of someone who is more put out by his pupils than growing to care about them. He also comes off as a slimeball, trying to pick mother Jeanie up before he has even asked if she is single. Even the basketball games themselves are some of the most negligibly filmed and portrayed in memory, but thank goodness for small favors; out of sheer incompetence, the climactic big game skips over the first three quarters altogether and joins the action just seconds away from the end of the game. Perhaps director Steve Carr recognized that only a complete idiot wouldn't be able to guess the foregone conclusion, and so he didn't even bother to raise the stakes with manufactured tension. Instead, he just cuts to the chase, and then reaches for feel-good schmaltziness that the film neither needs nor deserves.
The recent kids soccer comedy "Kicking & Screaming
," starring Will Ferrell, was nothing special and followed the same basic formula, but had so much more craftsmanship and comic sagacity that it suddenly seems pretty great in comparison. "Rebound" is beyond recall, a crummy, plodding, laughless trifle that stands as proof that a script akin to a series of blank pages can still be greenlit in Hollywood as long as there's a bankable movie star in the lead willing to creatively whore himself in exchange for the almighty dollar. Money, indeed, talks, but it remains to be seen whether disgruntled audiences sick of their intelligence being held in contempt by hack filmmakers will do the same. Regardless of what happens on the way to the box-office, "Rebound" stinks like a rancid pair of sweaty old gym sneakers.