Rebound, the new sports movie starring Martin Lawrence that opens today, is the reason box-office receipts have been down for a record 18 straight weeks.
I know a lot of polls and surveys and studies and whatever cite other reasons. Good reasons, too. Such as: Ticket prices are ridiculous.
The window between a new release and its DVD has shrunk to an average four months. People are overcommitted and overscheduled by scores of cable channels, video games, the Internet, their home entertainment centers, and generally long workweeks.
True, true, and true.
But I say it s Martin Lawrence.
Not that there isn t a place for third-string comedians in movies; Lawrence, with his mugging and slurring speech, is cut from the same shabby cloth of a dozen or so other funny men who acted as the C-list FattyArbuckles and Buster Keatons of their day, playing on the bottom half of double and triple features, often mercifully relegated to short subjects.
Fine, but does he have to be so lackadaisical about even his lallygagging? Does he have to phone in even the moments when he s supposed to be phoning it in? Do we have to pay $9.75 for it?
Martin Lawrence is not the reason that box-office receipts are in Pittsville at the moment, of course. His effortless ability to take an audience for granted a talent he shares with studios, theater owners, and actors is.
What s even funnier about that funnier, as in sadder is Rebound tells the story of a basketball coach from a fictitious Ohio university who is so self-infatuated and lackadaisical about his job that his college sports association bans him from the sport unless, of course, he can prove he cares about basketball by leading a rag-tag (as if there were any other kind) team of kids to the state championship.
What s even funnier about that again, funnier as in pathetic is that Rebound is not just redundant, lazy, and cheap, but beneath the never-good-natured kiddie fun is the latest example of an ugly, overworked trend: Hollywood-sploitation, which, for the record, is loosely defined as: a film or TV show that exploits our interest in celebrity and show business gossip while willingly exploiting personal details of its celebrity participants.
In short, Lawrence is playing a variation of his tabloid reputation as a volatile, mercurial guy, just as HBO fostered a mini-industry centered around celebrity naval-gazing with shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm (about Seinfeld creator Larry David) and The Comeback (with Lisa Kudrow as an aging actress); and just as VH1 built its image around celeb-reality TV like The Surreal Life and Jerry Hall s Kept.
Rebound finds Lawrence playing, yes, a moody, volatile, mercurial guy who has lost the connection to what he does best and wants his old life as a superstar back. Any coincidence with the real Lawrence is entirely intentional and uninspired. Except Lawrence doesn t perform his mea culpa on a bad (and free) sitcom. As Coach Roy, he assembles the dorkiest, lousiest players at his old school, Mount Vernon Junior High and just to remind you how stale this concept is, one of the kids (creepy Steven Anthony Lawrence) played a bad soccer player in Kicking & Screaming, which opened a few weeks ago.
Because the Bad News Bears sports formula (revisited in three weeks in The Bad News Bears remake) must be written in stone scripture and locked away in Burbank to prevent alterations, and because Lawrence never quite gets the idea that he s supposed to get attached to these kids, the only pleasure in Rebound is the thing that can generally be rescued from one of these movies:
My three favorites include:
No. 3: Ralph (again, Steven Anthony Lawrence), who throws up a lot and appears to be either 10 years old or a 43-year-old former Partridge Family member.
No. 2: Wes (Stephen C. Parker), a six-foot mouth-breather of the Napoleon Dynamite sort, with the lopsided smile of a real kid.
No. 1: Big Mac (Tara Correa), the team s girl and tough guy, who genuinely appears angry when Lawrence approaches.
We have much in common.