Going into something simplistic like "Hurricane Season," there's a certain expectation for ponderous inspirational entertainment. After all, it's a genre marked by excessive sentiment and formulaic tendencies. Even with some slack given to director Tim Story, "Season" remains a tedious, repetitive mess, clinging to the traumatizing image of Hurricane Katrina to cover for insufferable, lazy storytelling. Assuming it will inspire, "Season" instead comes across as groveling for acceptance, turning the truly sensational saga of the John Ehret High School basketball team into a drowsy juggling act of aggravating clichés.
In 2005, as Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans, Coach Collins (Forest Whitaker) of John Ehret High was putting the final touches on a stellar basketball team, gearing up for a championship season. In the aftermath of Katrina, the school was left in pieces, the community destroyed, and most of the players of the Patriots team moved away for safety. At the urging of those who remain, Coach Collins hopes to rebuild the team, bringing together a combustible group of kids (including Bow Wow, Robbie Jones, and Eric D. Hill Jr.), looking to funnel their raw emotions into an unstoppable basketball force. Neglecting his family (including Taraji P. Henson) and facing the wrath of disapproving parents (Courtney B. Vance), Coach Collins pushes himself to the limit to turn his ragtag group into champions.
The true story of the John Ehret Patriots is a remarkable one. Here was a school smashed by Hurricane Katrina, with the team cruelly scattered to the four winds with little hope for reunion. In a chaotic time, Coach Collins brought these young men together, not only to play basketball as a show of unstoppable New Orleans spirit, but also to make a push for the state title. It was an impossible shot at glory, and sometimes reality has a funny way of mirroring Hollywood's most obvious formula.
So how is it that Tim Story turned a delightful Cinderella tale into a swollen, sleepwalking waste of time? I supposed much of the blame could be placed on the shoulders of the "Fantastic Four" and "Taxi" director, who's rarely shown a capacity to guide actors to more direct points of performance. Story is more comforted by repetition and familiarity, giving "Season" a Lifetime Television push, with the heartbreaking Katrina footage acting as its unforgettable fingerprint. The laziness of the film isn't shocking, it's more disappointing, especially when the opening 15 minutes of the picture is all that's required to receive a detailed understanding of what "Season" has to offer. It's pure interpersonal discord and basketball brotherhood, without any surprises.
Being kind and open-hearted isn't a sin, but "Season" doesn't push the uplifting mood nearly as a far as it should go. Dealing with inner-city kids caught in a waterlogged nightmare, screenwriter Robert Eisele ("The Great Debaters," "The Birds II: Land's End") is more content to chart the irritability of the team, dreaming up sequence after sequence of players arguing, which extends to Coach Collins's personal life, where he deals with his one-dimensional harpy of a wife after a tiring day of basketball business (I have no clue why a talented actress like Henson would accept such a nothing role). The cast of young actors tend to grind into the senses with their melodramatic mood swings of teen fury, making the bickering and urban spraying tedious upon impact. Story actually makes the Patriots unlikable, which torches the intent of the film as the team settles in for a miracle trophy run.
The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio) presentation is working with a limited basketball and gymnasium color scheme, leaving the visual elements subdued but agreeable, with some minor EE issues. Storm sequences sustain their intended threat, and flood footage is appropriately chilling. Skintones look good, and black levels are sturdy, keeping detail available throughout the film. No digital hiccups were detected.
I enjoyed the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix, which is particularly strong during basketball sequences, with all the squeaky footwork and ball dribbling offering strong directional effects. Crowd cheering and storm warnings bring enveloping atmospherics to the picture as well. Dialogue (with some accent work) is easy enough to understand, balanced well with the tinny soundtrack selections and scoring cues.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are offered.
"Deleted Scenes" (44:37) essentially return patient characterization to the film, with long passages of trouble for Coach Collins. Most notably, the scenes restore much of Bonnie Hunt's performance as the school principal and introduces Irma P. Hall as a concerned grandmother, develop domestic and Katrina strife for Coach Collins, and provide more bonding time for the team. Most of the scenes are presented in an unfinished state.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
"Hurricane Season" is sympathetic to Katrina survivors, but it also feels predatory, using the anguish of the moment to reach its pedestrian dramatic goals. Instead of sweeping the viewer up with images of triumph and regional renewal, the picture sticks with sniveling villains, stock characterizations, and overcooked conflict to illuminate this amazing true story. I'd be shocked to learn if anyone finds the dramatized tale of the Patriots to be even a fraction as thrilling as the real thing.
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