Tired before it begins, Martin Lawrence’s entrance into the lucrative kiddie flick arena never figures how to handle his vibrant spacticity. As arrogant, bling-obsessed college basketball coach Roy McCormick, Lawrence is contained by cliches. Rebound starts with a scene that seems familiar even if you’ve never seen it before: Roy’s big black Escalade rolls up into the university arena parking lot (Ohio Polytech) and then scoots into a Cadillac golf-cart (a distance of maybe 20 feet). The game goes sour when he fights with the refs, and minutes later, he’s suspended for one too many technical fouls (plus, the splatty death of a mascot eagle, on the court, before thousands). Now he’s a laughing stock, the “loser of the week” named by John Salley and Tom Arnold, on Fox’s The Best Damn Sports Show Period.
His cushy lifestyle now stifled, Roy and his smarmy agent Tim Fink (Breckin Meyer) finagle a new gig, at coach’s old middle school, where he answers to practical-minded and budget-strapped Principal Walsh (Megan Mullally). She’s suspicious, thinking he’s condemned to some community service (“Did you get arrested for something?”), but gives him a chance because, well, they have no coach.
The team is comprised of predictable misfits, each cute and also troubled in his own way: talented Keith (Oren Williams) hogs the ball, little Ralph (Steven Anthony Lawrence) throws up when he’s nervous, Goggles (Gus Hoffman) is fond of snack foods, One Love (Eddy Martin) needs to play defense, and Fuzzy (Logan McElroy) can’t make a free throw. Coach adds a couple of more irregulars, tough girl Big Mac (Tara Correa) (“You and natural,” announces Roy, and so she is), and six-foot-two, very sweet geek boy Wes (Steven C. Parker). “I’m not very coordinated,” worries Wes. No Matter. All he’s supposed to do is walk on the court and hold his hands up, to scare opponents for a few minutes, until they realize he’s got no skills or experience. According to the newly inspired Roy, “Teamwork beats out talent any day.”
Though he spends all kinds of quality time with the kids, Roy also appears with some adults, including assistant coach/home ec teacher Mr. Newirth (Horatio Sanz), flirts with Keith’s pretty, but awfully annoying single mom Jeanie (Wendy Raquel Robinson), and competes vigorously with the very aggressive, very whiny, very irritating coach of the Vikings, the region’s dominant team, Burgess (Patrick Warburton). The other adultish figure who shows up is Preacher Don (also played by Lawrence), arriving in a pimp suit and offering his blessing so the newly confident team (this scene serves no purpose other than giving Lawrence the chance to emulate Eddie Murphy). The movie is most bearable if you consider the adults subsidiary and focus on the kids, in particular Big Mac and Wes, who develop something of a romance once he tutors her in math and she starts punching out kids who tease them. The relationship begins, so endearingly, with this bit of love talk: “Tell anyone that I’m studying, and I’ll end you.”
The plot, such as it is, is rendered moistly by montages familiar pop music — practices, pep talks, games, rides on the herky-jerky school bus that Roy and Newirth take turns driving badly, middle school cheerleaders, and headlines announcing the team’s miraculous winning streak. By the time you’re hearing House of Pain’s “Jump Around” on the soundtrack, you know the formula has run its course, that Roy will make the right choice and the championship game will end unsurprisingly.
The chief lesson here, if anyone is paying attention, is the depressing fact of these kids films built around performers who might be doing something more valuable, though perhaps less profitable. Even kids who like repetition can only be getting bored with the Murphy-Diesel-Cube-Lawrence movement.