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Original Issue

Under Review

When coach Ken Carter padlocked the gym at Richmond (Calif.) High in January 1999 and refused to let his 13--0 Oilers on the court until their academic work showed improvement, the community--plagued by drugs and unemployment, with basketball as its bright spot--was outraged. But Carter's move worked: The players' grades improved, and the team, despite two forfeited games, made the district playoffs. In Coach Carter, Samuel L. Jackson plays the coach, and he cuts a commanding profile, with suits sharp enough to rival Pat Riley's and an insistence on respect from his players. Coach is directed by Thomas Carter (no relation to Ken), who in the 1970s played Hayward on The White Shadow and directed the teen film Save the Last Dance. Coach comes off as something of a cross between the two: While the on-court action is gripping, the film often resembles a feel-good TV movie more than a multilayered feature. But the performances are solid, especially those of singer Ashanti and Rick Gonzalez, whose sad eyes sum up the frustrations of an entire community. And the messages Coach Carter sends--that long-term goals are more important than instant gratification, that winning isn't everything, that no one is above the law--are well worth listening to. --Nancy Ramsey