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As his fan base ages into parenthood, a smart comedian takes a stab at making a "family" movie. When a comedian has also had trouble on and off screen, pulling in the young set becomes a foregone conclusion. It took Martin Lawrence a little while to accept that, and so, almost unbelievably, it's been two years since we last saw him on screen in Bad Boys II and possibly five years since an out and out success with Big Momma's House.

Even more unbelievable? With the somewhat predictable Rebound, Lawrence may actually deserve to be on the path to box office redemption.

Life imitates art as the jug-eared comedian plays an ultra-cocky and hot-tempered college basketball coach more concerned with his perks than his actual work. As a result, his glory days are long behind him, even if he doesn't notice.

For the first ten minutes or so, this seems like just another Martin Lawrence movie, with "Coach Roy" barely making eye contact with anyone else in the scene and being generally dismissive. But when he accidentally kills an opposing college's mascot (kids should be exposed to dark humor early), Roy gets called on the carpet.

Only the quick thinking of his agent, the obviously named Tim Fink (Breckin Meyer), saves Roy's career from being utterly destroyed. Though fired from his job, he has a chance to return if he can go for a suspension period of exemplary behavior.

What are the odds? His middle school alma mater has a losing team and a home ec teacher (Horatio Sanz) for a coach. Star player Keith faxes Coach Roy an offer, which Fink takes as a great publicity opportunity. And thus begins the rehabilitation of Coach Roy.

Plot-wise, Rebound has no real surprises to offer, following the "misfit sports team" genre started by Bad News Bears. Roy even finds a star player in a troubled girl, Big Mac (Tara Correa). If some of it seems even more recent, look no further back than Kicking & Screaming; Rebound even has one of the same misfit kids from that movie, Steven Anthony Lawrence.

It might also be hard to swallow certain contrivances, such as the middle school having exactly five players, and apparently, they're all conveniently in 7th Grade in case of Rebound 2: Still Bouncin'.

Movies like this only become forgivable if they have charm, and director Steve Carr proved he could deliver that with Daddy Day Care, another predictable but lightly pleasant kid movie. Carr's real trick, though, lies in making Lawrence grow to pleasantness. As Roy learns to bond with these kids and take responsibility for his job as their coach, so Lawrence seems to be learning to bond with the child actors. Usually, other characters in his films exist only so a plot can revolve around him. He makes eye contact and really appears to care.

The spotlight also shifts around. While Lawrence never loses control of the movie, he shares the laughs. Most of Sanz' bits are just goofy, though they'll probably score with the kids. But Patrick Warburton and Megan Mullally both play against their sitcom images to great effect. As a rival basketball coach, Warburton taps into the utter jerk side that he rarely flashed on Seinfeld. It's good to see him play something other than his usual brilliant thick-headedness.

So effective is Roy/Lawrence's transformation, he even has a believable love interest. Keith's mother Jeannie (Wendy Raquel Robinson) has him rightly pegged as shallow and self-interested, but keeps enough of an open mind to witness his change of heart. When they inevitably date, it doesn't seem nearly as contrived as it could have been, and we only really witness the awkward beginnings of a relationship without being sure where it will lead.

I'm not sure where this newfound near-liking of Martin Lawrence will lead, either. But I'm willing to give it a chance.


Derek McCaw

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