Richard Linklater's promising remake of The Bad News Bears lurks tantalizingly on the horizon, but the influence of Michael Ritchie's much-imitated 1976 tale of hapless underdogs facing long odds can be felt on pretty much every plucky kids' sports movie that followed. That includes the middling new Rebound, which even goes so far as to feature a brash, tough-as-nails tomboy ringer. Alas, to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, Tara Correa-McMullen is no Tatum O'Neil, and Rebound is no Bad News Bears.
Rebound director Steve Carr previously lucratively steered the once mildly outrageous Eddie Murphy into family-friendly territory with Dr. Dolittle 2 and Daddy Day Care. He does the same here with Martin Lawrence, casting the onetime tabloid fixture as a mercurial, temperamental Bobby Knight-like college-basketball coach who accidentally kills an opposing team's mascot and agrees to coach a pathetic junior-high basketball team as penance. Lawrence initially sees the gig as a chance to salvage his tattered reputation and secure more coaching offers, but in a non-shocking twist, he comes to love his team, all of whom are afforded one distinguishing quality: the fat kid, the ball-hog, the kid prone to nerves-induced vomiting, etc. Rebound's filmmakers affably, mechanically run the kiddie sports-comedy drill, transforming the junior-high hoopsters from scoreless wonders to nationally buzzed-about contenders while still finding time for myriad montages set to buzzy pop songs, a chaste romance for Lawrence with the hot mother of one of his charges, and above all, a veritable avalanche of sap.
Like the similarly tepid recent sports comedy The Longest Yard, Rebound doesn't boast much of a character arc for its protagonist. He ostensibly begins the film as a spoiled, arrogant jerk, but before long, he's delivering warm, fatherly speeches about the importance of teamwork and the value of believing in one's self. Easing off his usual mugging and eye-popping shtick, Lawrence spends seemingly half the film lending gentle guidance to his young charges against a backdrop of saccharine piano music. The kinder, gentler Lawrence certainly qualifies as more pleasant than the scatological wild man who infamously discoursed at length on female genital hygiene on Saturday Night Live, but he isn't necessarily funnier or more engaging. It'd be tempting to accuse Rebound of neutering Lawrence, but the sad fact is that Martin Lawrence doesn't have a whole lot of comic genius to betray.