Acommon cry goes up among film critics when they're assigned a Martin Lawrence movie.


Not "Why me?" mind you. As I often remind my bosses, I see the good ones free of charge -- it's the dogs they pay me to watch. No, the question "Why?" has to do with Lawrence, as in why -- when there are so many funnier, smarter, more gifted performers who can't get arrested in Hollywood -- why, for the love of all that's good and holy, does Martin Lawrence get to keep making movies?

The latest abomination to prompt this line of inquiry is "Rebound," a lazy, by-the-numbers vehicle that joins every other lazy, by-the-numbers vehicle Lawrence has made in recent years. Here he plays Roy McCormick, an arrogant basketball coach whose courtside outbursts, reminiscent of those of the notorious Bobby Knight, get him kicked out of college ball. In an effort to rehabilitate his reputation and career, McCormick answers a handwritten note from his middle school alma mater, whose players desperately want to rehabilitate their own team and maybe just once taste life outside the "L" column.

Would it shock you to know that, via a Cinderella-like makeover, McCormick helps them do just that, and learns a lot about life and love along the way? "Rebound," which bears all the trademarks of being stamped and dyed by the usual team of studio lifers, hews so closely to the predictable plot points that by the time the Big Game rolls around, you're sincerely hoping for the good guys to fail.

Such bad will is the fault of no one but Lawrence himself, an actor who, for this critic at least, has in all of his performances conveyed not humor but a supreme, even rather nasty, sense of self-regard. That quality might come in handy at the beginning of "Rebound," but at the crucial turning point the role demands warmth and empathy Lawrence has never been capable of.

However inexplicably, Lawrence does have his fans, some of whom will no doubt delight in his efforts at more wholesome humor than is his wont, as well as his cameo appearance as a purple-clad, gold-toothed preacher. But on no objective grounds could that or anything else about "Rebound" be considered funny, a fact that doesn't seem lost on the film's beleaguered supporting cast. Megan Mullally, the squeaky-voiced scene-stealer on "Will & Grace," sighs unenthusiastically through a phoned-in performance as the middle school's principal; it's somehow fitting that, unlike everyone else in the community who seems to show up at the climactic showdown, she's nowhere to be found. If only the same could be said for the rest of us in the audience.

Rebound (87 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for mild profanity and sexual innuendo.

Martin Lawrence doesn't get the wheels rolling as a coach in the predictable film "Rebound."