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Television Review

Against All Odds, Sirr Pursues His Dream

February 17, 2001|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An absentee father, an unstable, substance-abusing mother; bleak poverty, the constant threat of gang violence, the easy availability of drugs: Can a good kid's dreams survive all that?

Sirr Parker's did.

"They Call Me Sirr," an outstanding "Showtime Original Pictures for All Ages" film, is based on the coming of age of NFL player Sirr Parker, his life in South-Central Los Angeles, his hard-won academic success and his rise to national fame as a high school football phenom--fame that led to his dream come true: a college scholarship (Texas A&M, no less) and a pro ball career.

Parker is still in his early 20s and, signed by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1999, he's not a big-time NFL star. But celebrity isn't the point--"it's the journey," as Sirr's high school coach says to his players during practice.

"The Green Mile's" Michael Clarke Duncan stars as the inspirational coach. Heading the cast with Kente Scott, who plays Sirr from ages 14 to 17, Duncan gives an emotional performance as a man whose drill-sergeant exterior doesn't conceal a deep concern for kids with promise. As Sirr, Scott gracefully balances strength and vulnerability.

Other standouts: Novie Edwards, finding the fragility in Sirr's addicted, child-abandoning mother; Jackie Richardson, her expressive eyes showing the emotional toll of a strong grandmother's struggle to keep her grandchildren together; Doron Bell Jr. and Chris Collins, surprisingly believable as a pair of altruistic, gang-banging cousins who are fiercely determined that Sirr will make it.

Even if this bio-pic wasn't based on someone real, the story of a young man who perseveres against dire odds, takes responsibility for himself and others, cares about people and works hard toward attaining a goal would be a worthy subject for family viewing.

But worthiness doesn't guarantee watchability. It is producer, writer and director Robert Munic's skill as a storyteller, and the integrity of his excellent cast's performances, that transcend stereotypes and give this poor-kid-makes-good story its resonance.

*

* "They Call Me Sirr," Showtime, Sunday at 8 p.m. TV-PG.

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