U.S. Release Date: March 23, 2007
Distributor: Lionsgate
Writer: J. Mills Goodloe
Producer: Paul Hall, Terrence Howard (executive)
Composer: Aaron Zigman
Cast: Terrence Howard, Bernie Mac
Running Time: 1 hour and 44 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (thematic material, language including some racial epithets, and violence)

Sports Tale Barely Beats the Buzzer
by Scott Holleran

Though clichéd, flawed and predictable, the choppy sports drama Pride rallies for a smooth finish for those who like this sort of rah-rah movie (and I do).

Too many hands on the script, too many ups and downs and not enough character development slow down this swimmer's story of college graduate ex-swimmer Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard, trading on his sincerity) who uses personal adversity to shape a winning team.

He does it by coaching, this after surviving a humiliating meet in the South's Tar Heel state, North Carolina, in 1964, the year the Civil Rights Act was passed, and blacks like him were gaining recognition of their rights. But not at that particular competition, a painful past episode that hangs over him like a bad dream. Director Sunu Gonera deftly captures the hurt and shame caused by racism.

Ellis carries that lesson into Philadelphia in the early Seventies, having to accept a maintenance job at a city recreational center where black kids play basketball and the pool goes unused. The premise of Pride is what people don't say out loud—blacks don't swim—and Ellis, paired with gruff Bernie Mac as a janitor hanging around the dilapidated rec center, challenges those pre-conceived notions.

Howard plays the role right, slipping Ellis into a job beneath his ability, quietly aching with the realization that some people, white and black, refuse to judge people as individuals. Among them are the kids he takes into the water, who must learn by losing, and the scenes of them learning the principles of drag, breathing and cupping are Pride's best. Ellis holds a mirror to each swimmer—literally and otherwise. Pride's no sin to this teacher; it is the mark of a skilled sportsman.

Ellis gives each swimmer permission to have a look at themselves in progress, a glorious idea that allows for a second wind that's very late in coming, saving the slow-paced affair. In between is a whole lot of treading water.

The kids—an ace swimmer girl joins the team along the way—are played by a band of mostly gym bodied actors. Nice guys, to be sure, but barely real, believable characters hanging around Philly's Marcus Foster rec center. One has a guardian sister (always reliable Kimberly Elise) who's a councilwoman that wants to close the center, another stutters, another needs to get past his bad attitude to tap his potential, and they are all coasting on clichés, one of which is the inner city street thug who loiters around the 'hood threatening the swim program's existence.

The real villains, of course, are white people, which is fine in this context, especially Tom Arnold with virtually no credibility as an uptown swim coach rival who barks and bites with hatred for blacks. But outstanding white suburban swimmers are inexplicably (and incredibly) portrayed as cartoonish brats who toss off taunts as if they're tough boxing champs.

Problems include plot holes, such as Ellis sleeping on a cot at the recreational center while providing the team with uniformed swim trunks, and the absence of any home or school for the swimmers. But Pride pulls through toward the end with an appealing, if conventional, theme that life isn't fair and real winners just deal with it and make the most of their ability.

Coach Carter
Graduating with Honors
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