It's ancient history to most, but an open wound to some: In 1988, the David W. Carter High School Cowboys became the first Dallas school in decades to win the state 5A football title, only to have the trophy tossed three years later.
There were, at first, allegations that one of the players had an algebra grade changed to remain eligible. Then came the far more notorious wrongdoing: Several Cowboys went on a crime spree, and were sentenced to hard time by a judge who wanted to make examples of young men who threw away promising futures in exchange for a few dollars heisted from cash registers at gunpoint.
It's a narrative ready-made for the big screen -- the flipside to the feel-good story that was Friday Night Lights, in which the Carter Cowboys played a major role as the big-city villains who wrested away Odessa Permian's rightful title.
Carter Highwriter-director Arthur Muhammad is to be cheered for single-handedly pushing the film into the red zone. A wide receiver on that Carter team, he's been trying to tell the tale for more than a decade, and doesn't shy away from explaining how talented young men snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Locals will crowd the theater during its wide release here, and rightly so: It's a confident work made by a veteran of the war unafraid to show its casualties. Only, Carter High doesn't quite cross the goal line. Its tone is at times inconsistent; its story, occasionally unclear. One minute it's the rousing tale of underdogs hounded by the University Interscholastic League; the next, it's a crime story-as-cautionary tale.
Riveting chapters -- such as the time Derric Evans (played by former TCU Horned Frog Aundre Dean) signed his Tennessee letter of commitment in a hot tub -- become footnotes. Players are almost indistinguishable, interchangeable. We come to know very little about who these guys are and why they were so amenable to risking college and could-be pro careers for a little cash.
And every few minutes, Charles S. Dutton as Carter head coach Freddie James pops up to deliver a blustering, rousing inspirational speech from a completely different, Disney-style movie.
CARTER HIGH (B-)
Directed by Arthur Muhammad. PG-13 (thematic elements, some strong language and suggestive material). 105 mins. In wide release locally.