A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Samuel L. Jackson made news last week by refusing to co-star with 50 Cent in a movie based on the rapper's life. He not only refused, but did it publicly, even though the film is to be directed by six-time Oscar nominee Jim Sheridan ("In America"). A clue to Jackson's thinking may be found in his new film, "Coach Carter," based on the true story of a California high school basketball coach who placed grades ahead of sports. Like Bill Cosby, Jackson is arguing against the anti-intellectual message that success for young black males is better sought in the worlds of rap and sports than in the classroom.
There is however another aspect to Jackson's refusal: He said he thought Sheridan wanted him to "lend legitimacy" to 50 Cent's acting debut. He might have something there. Jackson has an authority on the screen; he occupies a character with compelling force, commanding attention and can bring class to a movie. He might, he said, be interested in working with 50 Cent after the rapper makes another five movies or so, and earns his chops.
This reasoning may not be fair. Consider the work that Ice Cube did in "Boyz N the Hood" (1991), his first movie and the beginning of a successful acting career. Or look at the promise that Tupac Shakur showed, especially in his last feature, "Gridlock'd" (1997), holding his own with the veteran Tim Roth. Maybe 50 Cent has the stuff to be an actor. Maybe not. Jackson's decision may have more to do with the underlying values of the rapper's life; he may not consider 50 Cent's career, so often involving violent episodes, to be much of a role model.
Role models are what "Coach Carter," Jackson's new film, is all about. He plays Ken Carter, who began as a sports star at Richmond (California) High School, setting records that still stand, and then had success in the military and as a small businessman. He's asked to take over as basketball coach, an unpaid volunteer position; the former coach tells him, "I can't get them to show up for school." Ken Carter thinks he can fix that.