Yet another feel-good sports comedy about a childish grownup who gets a shot at redemption while coaching kids, “Rebound” scores a few chuckles while following a familiar game plan. Pic has been drafted as family-friendly counterprogramming against opening weekend of Steven Spielberg’s dark and stormy “War of the Worlds.” Despite marquee allure of franchise player Martin Lawrence, however, lightweight Fox release isn’t likely to break any B.O. records during theatrical preliminaries. But it’s reasonably safe to expect a solid performance in homevid playoffs.
Lawrence is funniest when most ferocious in early scenes as Roy McCormick, a fiery-tempered college basketball coach — think Bobby Knight, with a better fashion sense — who devotes entirely too much time to commercial endorsements. When he does focus on hardwood action instead of TV huckstering, he’s a hotheaded screamer who never met a ref he didn’t loathe.
But when he accidentally kills a rival team’s feathered mascot during a courtside altercation, McCormick finds that even a celebrity coach isn’t immune from being suspended by the National College Basketball Assn. (Evidently, no real-life college sports authority deigned to lend its name to filmmakers.)
Advised by his semi-sleazy agent (Breckin Meyer) to attempt a radical image makeover, Lawrence agrees to accept a short-term coaching job at any school where he can “give something back to the community” — and, not incidentally, generate good publicity while redeeming himself in eyes of NCBA officials.
But the only school willing to risk his presence on campus is Lawrence’s childhood alma mater, Mount Vernon Junior High, where the hapless hoopsters haven’t won a game since the Reagan administration.
Among the underachieving 13-year-olds playing for the sparkless Mount Vernon Smelters: Keith (Oren Williams), a talented but untrained ball hog; One Love (Eddy Martin), a dandy who dreams of shoe-endorsement contracts; Goggles (Gus Hoffman), who sports really, really big glasses; Fuzzy (Logan McElroy), a poster boy for Overeaters Anonymous; and Ralph (Steven Anthony Lawrence), a nervous type who tends to upchuck before, during and after every game.
It took no fewer than five credited writers to cobble together a scenario composed entirely of secondhand parts. Some may suspect helmer Steve Carr didn’t work from a script at all but instead merely ticked items off a list of sports-movie cliches: Players are demoralized losers easily transformed into unlikely winners? Check. Blustering coach gradually reveals a heart of pure mush? Ditto. Attractive single mom (Wendy Raquel Robinson) overcomes initial dislike of son’s new coach to strike romantic sparks? Got it. Climatic junior high championship game just happens to coincide with coach’s must-attend meeting with college officials? Done.
The ultimate outcome of McCormick’s third-act choice between a return to college coaching and a permanent job at Mount Vernon will surprise … well, actually, no reasonably sentient human being. Indeed, coach’s change-of-heart value shift is so thoroughly predictable, filmmakers obviously felt they didn’t need to dramatize it. So they merely announce it.
Modest pleasures of “Rebound” have almost nothing to do with by-the-numbers plot. Lawrence wisely refrains from pushing too hard in easy-to-overplay role, and he’s all the more effective for his relative restraint. (Unfortunately, his jokey cameo bit as an inspirational preacher adds nothing to pic.)
Two new team players — fearsomely tomboyish Big Mac (Tara Correa) and awkward six-footer Wes (Steven Christopher Parker) — are cleverly conceived characters played by promising newcomers. (That these opposites attract is a sweet touch.)
Other standout supporting players include Megan Mullally (of TV’s “Will & Grace”) as the sharp-tongued principal and Amy Bruckner and Alia Shawkat as Mount Vernon students whose enthusiastic play-by-play commentary is pic’s best running gag. Horatio Sanz (as McCormick’s assistant coach) and Patrick Warburton (as a rival school’s rabid coach) appear sporadically in roles evidently diminished in the editing room.
Tech values are generally unremarkable, but Carr makes creative use of neo-retro screen wipes to signal scene changes. Pic includes several plugs for “The Best Damn Sports Show Period,” Fox Sports Net series whose star commentators — Tom Arnold, Bryan Cox, Chris Rose and John Salley — are credibly cast as themselves.