February 28, 1994 12:00 PM

Nick Note, Mary McDonnell, Shaquille O’Neal

If a basketball player attempts an ill-advised shot, executes it with no finesse (“touch”) and misses it badly, he is said to have put up a brick. This angst-laden college basketball tale is the movie equivalent of a brick.

Nolte is basketball coach at a Los Angeles university; he has won two national titles but now has a losing team. Will he compromise his principles to let rich alumni pay off the high-school stars he needs to recruit? Director William Friedkin leaves no moral dilemma unexamined, from the recruitment question to whether Nolte should sleep with his oddly coquettish ex-wife, McDonnell.

Little restraint is shown by anyone, none by Nolte, who seems to think he is doing Hamlet at Inchon as he shows anguish by willing instant furrows into his brow. Despite having spent two weeks researching his part by hanging around Indiana University coach Bobby Knight, Nolte never seems comfortable when he has to handle the basketball. He does, however, realistically reflect Knight’s self-righteous, media-bashing paranoia and tantrums.

As for O’Neal, who plays Nolte’s prime prospect: with his pro basketball career as the all-star center of the Orlando Magic, his bully-boy Pepsi commercials and his rap record, he is seriously overextended. He is a terrible actor and renders most of his lines incomprehensible with mush-mouthed diction. The only thing he does with style is dunk, and watching a 7’1″ guy dunk is as exciting as watching an elephant stomp ants. (PG-13)

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