Pop quiz, boys and girls. “Rebound” is:
a) The title of Martin Lawrence’s unusual attempt at kid-friendly comedy.
b) The basketball version of “Kicking & Screaming,” which was the soccer version of “The Bad News Bears.”
c) What Lawrence hopes his career will do.
d) All of the above.
If you chose “d,” you’re right.
You’d also be right to avoid “Rebound,” despite the movie’s good intentions to provide wholesome laughs. It’s just not funny. It’s overbearing, overly simplistic, and just plain dull.
And it makes you wonder what happened to Lawrence — who seemingly could do no wrong on the comedy stage and had boundless energy and an arsenal of vivid characters he could bring to life.
Now, after some run-ins with the law, one hit (“Bad Boys II”) and a string of misses in recent years (“Black Knight,” “National Security,” his concert film “Runteldat”), it appears he’s trying to reinvent himself by playing the reluctant coach of an inept junior high school basketball team. (Clearly, you already see where this movie is going.)
Making this transition can be harder than it sounds, despite the charisma of the actor involved. “Rebound” director Steve Carr previously helped Eddie Murphy do it with a bit more success in “Dr. Dolittle 2” and “Daddy Day Care,” among the movies that took Murphy from the raunchy comedy routines he’d made his name with and into softer, sweeter territory that’s more appropriate (though not necessarily more enjoyable) for the entire family.
Sight gags and hip-hopHere, Lawrence looks stiff even when he’s at the height of his powers at the film’s start as Roy McCormick, a hotheaded, high-profile college basketball coach — think Bobby Knight with a flashy wardrobe — who’s banned for his obnoxious behavior.
At the urging of his equally obnoxious agent (Breckin Meyer), Roy says yes to a scribbled offer sent by fax from his alma mater, Mount Vernon Junior High School, to coach the struggling Smelters. (Roy reportedly was a star Smelter back in the day, and now as a 5-foot-6 adult, is barely taller than the motley members of his squad. This makes about as much sense as casting Adam Sandler, all 5 feet and 10 inches of him, as a former MVP quarterback in the remake of “The Longest Yard.” But size doesn’t matter, right?)
The script from first-timers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore consists of repetitive sight gags involving sloppy drills and pratfalls. Roy’s lazy, clueless young players bounce basketballs off each others’ heads and various other body parts. For several games, they fail to score a single point. These antics are punctuated — nay, smothered — in generically jaunty hip-hop music.
“Junior Hoosiers,” it ain’t.
Roy simultaneously tries to romance Jeanie (Wendy Raquel Robinson), the beautiful, single mother of his best player, Keith (Oren Williams), which he also does awkwardly. But working with Keith and the other kids eventually forces Roy to — you guessed it — become a kinder person and recognize that having fun is more important than winning. All of this takes place with the subtlety and finesse of a sitcom on Nickelodeon, whose target audience will probably recognize and reject “Rebound” for its lifelessness.
Sitcoms actually have provided many of the film’s supporting actors — including Megan Mullally (“Will & Grace”), Patrick Warburton (“Seinfeld”) and Alia Shawkat (“Arrested Development”) — with far superior material than they’re saddled with here.
But “Rebound” does offer one insightful tidbit. Roy says to the selfish, showboating Keith, “Teamwork beats out talent any day,” and urges him to pass the ball.
If Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant realize they still can’t get along, maybe Martin Lawrence can reinvent himself again as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.