on July 01, 2005 by Wade Major
Thirty years worth of listless knockoffs, a short-lived television series and a pair of uninspired sequels have obviously done nothing to diminish the appeal of "The Bad News Bears," which, by the end of the summer, will have delivered two more knockoffs and a remake, all within a matter of weeks. Wedged inauspiciously between the soccer-themed Will Ferrell vehicle "Kicking and Screaming" and preceding the Billy Bob Thornton "Bears" remake by just 21 days, Martin Lawrence's "Rebound" is getting no love in terms of its scheduling. And though the message-heavy, family-friendly film will undoubtedly be well-received by those who bother to see it, it's much too familiar, too derivative, too formulaic and too predictable to have much hope of competing in an already disappointing summer season.

The approach here casts Lawrence as Coach Roy, a hotshot three-time collegiate champion whose well of success finally runs dry after fame, fortune, ego and a tendency toward temper tantrums push him over the edge. In a flash, Roy finds himself jobless and banned from college coaching altogether, with only one shot at getting his old job back: coaching the winless misfits at his old junior high. It's a silly contrivance, of course, but not out-of-step with the general level of verisimilitude in comparable Martin Lawrence comedies.

The rest of the film proceeds in predictable fashion -- Roy fashions the kids into winners, the kids remind Roy of the things that matter most in life, and everyone lives happily ever after. Roy even gets a touch of romance in the person of his star player's mother (Wendy Raquel Robinson), a music teacher at the same school.

Director Steve Carr ("Daddy Day Care") doesn't exactly take chances here; the jokes are aimed low, mainly at preteens, with Lawrence hewing to his usual shtick. But within its own narrow, self-imposed parameters, it mostly works, fumbling the formula only briefly during its extended setup.

Colorful if thankless cameos by recognizable supporting actors help bolster the effort: Horatio Sanz as Roy's assistant coach, Megan Mullally as the school principal, and Patrick Warburton in a hilarious, scene-stealing turn as a belligerent rival coach. "Kicking and Screaming" fans will also recognize one of that film's lovable losers, Steven Anthony Lawrence, suiting up here as well.

Beyond the "Bad News Bears" comparisons, however, "Rebound" speaks to another budding trend in which increasing numbers of stars from the '80s and '90s are fast shedding their raw and raunchy pasts to embrace such family-friendly fare as "Johnson Family Vacation," "Are We There Yet," and the aforementioned "Daddy Day Care," to cite only a few. It's not an unnatural progression, as these stars move into their 40s and settle down with families of their own. It's just unfortunate that it hasn't exactly been in the service of better material. Starring Martin Lawrence, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Breckin Meyer, Horatio Sanz and Megan Mullaly. Directed by Steve Carr. Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. Produced by Robert Simonds. A Fox release. Comedy. Rated PG for mild language and thematic elements. Running time: 87 min

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