Jul 6, 2005 at 12:00 am

Biding his time between sequels for the Bad Boys and Big Momma’s House franchises, what’s a firebrand comic like Martin Lawrence to do? Anything but a movie like Rebound — but it’s too late for that now.

Lawrence does for kiddie basketball what Rodney Dangerfield did more than a decade ago for girl’s soccer in Ladybugs. What? You don’t remember Mr. No Respect’s comic stylings in Ladybugs? Exactly.

In this forgettable permutation of the comeback kids tale, Lawrence plays Roy McCormick, a college basketball coach who loses his temper, kills the school’s beloved mascot, a hawk — no! — and gets banned from coaching at the college level. Coach Roy is then relegated to junior high hoops — oh, the horror — and unenthusiastically takes over his old middle school’s team. Ego bruised but still overinflated, he must overcome his pomposity to teach this hopeless troupe of rejects, and — surprise! — win the heart of one kid’s single mama.

Lawrence, never one to shy from the ridiculous, also portrays Preacher Don, whom Coach Roy calls in to lead the team in prayer. Preacher Don is an obvious play on Snoop’s enigmatic companion, the pimp-turned-preacher-but-likely-still-a-pimp Archbishop Don “Magic” Juan. Sporting a bright purple suit and hat, Lawrence’s Preacher Don calls on God to injure a player on the other team — not seriously, of course. Surprisingly, that’s about as off-the-cuff as Lawrence gets.

Usually explosive, vulgar and hyperactive, Lawrence tones his persona way down in Rebound, possibly to not scare off the parents who are buying the tickets, or possibly because there’s not much to do with the script’s well-worn plot and staid slapstick.

Coach Roy’s island of misfit ballers is populated with one-dimensional kids, each saddled with a single predictable flaw that the coach can help overcome, hopefully in time to win the big game. There’s the nervous barfer, the hotshot, the ball hog, the bully and the gangly untalented kid. Unfortunately, director Steve Carr gives none of these young actors a shot to outshine the movie’s star. But with Lawrence phoning it in, the kids should have been allowed to steal the spotlight, especially the wonderful Tara Correa, whose brutish girl-bully Big Mac is the closest thing to funny in this movie.

When Coach Roy, as the formula dictates, gets an opportunity to go back to his old life, he instead stays with the kids, who have somehow inspired him so much, even though they’ve inspired the audience so little. One only wishes Preacher Don had been there to say a prayer of thanks, because, at that point, not only is the end of the movie in sight, but hopefully the door is slammed on the prospect of Rebound 2. Hallelujah.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].