Martin Lawrence has never exactly been among the world's more gifted comedians, yet his movies seem to keep raking in the cash, so there must be legions of loyal Lawrenceheads out there somewhere. But even they, who have made financial successes of Black Knight and Big Momma's House and National Security, may be disappointed by Rebound. Lawrence's humor, such as it is, generally stems from danger. At any moment, he might say something he isn't supposed to, or act outrageously while donning some deliberately awful disguise.
This is the man whose concert movie Runteldat featured the F-word 3.07 times per minute (source: IMDB.com) and whose previous concert movie, You So Crazy, was initially rated NC-17, then released unrated rather than trimmed for an R. When he hosted Saturday Night Live, his opening monologue was deemed so over-the-line that it's been deleted from reruns. When he had his own Fox sitcom, he was constantly running afoul of network censors for saying "ass" too many times.
And now he's gone and made a kids' movie.
The obvious precedent for this kind of career move is Eddie Murphy, but Murphy was funny with or without blue material, as his SNL career proved. Lawrence without raunch is not funny. A better career move for him would be to branch off into playing slightly more serious, dangerous lunatics; his best movies to date are the Bad Boys films with Will Smith, which are also his least broadly comedic.
So, yes, Rebound isn't funny. There are no laughs in it whatsoever. The biggest audience reaction at the press screening came not from anything Lawrence did onscreen, but from the fact that OutKast's "Hey Ya" played over a montage sequence.
It's possible the actor doesn't care -- one of his most infamous demands has been his insistence on having a basketball hoop by his trailer so he can play between takes, and with Rebound he finally gets to play onscreen. If he had fun, good for him. In this instance, he's the only one.
As a short-fused coach in the "NCBA" (the NCAA appears to have withheld permission for use of its name, and wisely so), Lawrence's Coach Roy should be a perfect fit, but even when he throws tantrums at the referees, this version of Martin Lawrence seems way toned down from his Fox sitcom days. Hell, compared to actual tantrum-throwing coaches, he's pretty laid-back. But in a poorly staged gag, he ends up killing a bird mascot by accident, which gets him put on probation. To avoid getting banned altogether, he must prove himself worthy of another chance, but now no team will hire him, save one: the losing team at his former junior high, named "Mount Vernon," in what may be a subtle nod to those perennial, hapless Harlem Globetrotter foes, the Washington Generals.
The plot is sort of like Kicking & Screaming in reverse, and even has two of the same actors: Laura Kightlinger in a comedic cameo, and Steven Anthony Lawrence as one of the untalented kids. Patrick Warburton shows up briefly as an obsessive coach not unlike Will Ferrell in Kicking, and makes you wish the movie were about him instead.
Other than Warburton, the only thing close to a redeeming element is a minor subplot involving the unlikely relationship between a six-foot band geek (Steven Christopher Parker) and a hefty female bully (Tara Correa). Neither is overly cute or glamorous in the conventional Hollywood mold, but both have a natural charisma that makes their budding romance feel more real than most such onscreen pairings, especially among child actors. Too bad this movie isn't about them. Instead, we must watch as Lawrence gets paired with an attractive and infinitely patient single mother (Wendy Raquel Robinson), whose dramatic arc -- going from hating Coach Roy to loving him -- isn't credible in any way.
It's interesting to note that on a big-budget studio film such as this one, basic Photoshopping skills are not required; a team shot of Coach Roy in his junior high days is quite obviously faked, which isn't apparently supposed to be a joke (but then again, since nothing here is actually funny, who knows?). The folks at Fox seem more interested in cross-promotion than anything else, which explains the numerous intrusions into the narrative of The Best Damn Sports Show Period, the result of which is that you finally get to see Martin Lawrence and Tom Arnold in the same movie together. If that sounds good to you, be aware that you will probably never agree with anything a film critic says ever again, and you should really stop reading this section of the paper.
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