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Pride Review

By Shawn McKenzie 04/11/2007

The Synopsis:

In 1964, Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard) is the only man of color on his college team trying to swim competitively in Salisbury, NC.  Despite Coach Logan (Louis Herthum), Jim’s swimming coach, warning him that the crowd might not be too receptive of his presence there, he goes ahead anyway.  The other swimmers humiliate him, and in his anger, he punches a cop…thereby effectively ending his swimming career.  Flash forward to 1974, and Jim is applying for a coaching position at the mostly white Main Line Academy in Philadelphia where Coach Richard “Bink” Binkowski (Tom Arnold) doesn’t think “a person like you could communicate with our students.”  Since he couldn’t get that job, his employment agent Ron Lincoln (Anthony Bean) sends him to oversee the cleaning out of the Marcus Foster Recreation Center, a rundown department of recreation facility scheduled for demolition.  Councilwoman Sue Carter (Kimberly Elise) is the one responsible for its closing, because she believes it attracts criminals like pimp and drug dealer Franklin Pierce (Gary Sturgis.)  When Jim gets to the rec center, he meets its head of maintenance, Elston (Bernie Mac), who finds out for the first time that it is closing for good…and he is ticked off about it.  There are some good kids who hang out at the rec center though.  Teens such as Puddin’ Head (Brandon Fobbs), Andre Williamson (Kevin Phillips), Reggie Jones (Evan Ross), Walt Taylor (Alphonso McAuley), and Hakim Carter (Nate Parker)…the latter being Sue’s younger brother…play basketball out in its courtyard.  When the basketball rims are removed from the court, Jim decides to invite them in to use the pool (which is in surprisingly pristine condition) with the hope that it will keep the kids away from Franklin.  The teens start out playing around in the pool, but when Andre challenges Jim to a swim race (and loses), Jim decides to form a swim team.  Elston joins Jim in the endeavor, and they are eventually joined by Wiloma “Willie” Thompson (Regine Nehy), who ends up being a better swimmer than any of the guys.  Jim tries to keep them in line and stop clowning around, which they do.  Unfortunately, racism gets in the way of them becoming a more established team, especially from teams like Bink’s Main Line Academy.  Either way, Jim renames the rec center the “Philadelphia Department of Recreation” (PDR) but tells them that PDR stands for “Pride,” “Determination,” and “Resilience.”

The Review:

Sports movies “based on a true story” seem to come out every other week, like sequels and remakes, but not all of them are bad (though most of them are clichéd.)  Pride is one of the better ones that’s derailed by one scene that completely ruins the whole movie (more on that later.)

First off, it is different in the fact that we don’t usually have a sports movie surrounding the sport of swimming.  In fact, the only movie surrounding the topic of swimming at all that I can think of was last year’s British import On a Clear Day (which wasn’t necessarily a sports movie.)  I’ll give the film points for that.

Otherwise, it’s pretty a standard sports film featuring some good performances.  Howard continues to impress in the lead role.  Mac is actually the surprise, because he manages to be the movie’s comic relief and still be credibly dramatic at the same time.  Arnold does okay as the “bad guy,” but he isn’t necessarily memorable or evil enough.  Elise is okay as the potential love interest, but they really didn’t develop her character enough.  All of the kids are interchangeable in their performances with no one kid standing out.

Now I will get to the scene that made me want to lower my rating of the film.  Halfway into the movie, Main Line makes up a flimsy excuse why they can’t compete at the PDR pool, which disappoints the boys.  One of them gets up on his diving board and shouts, “This is our house, coach!”  One by one, the other boys get up on their diving boards and shout the same thing while Howard cries crocodile tears.  I understand dramatic license when telling a true story…but do you really believe that this scene really happened in the real life events?  I somehow doubt it.  As it stands, the scene turns the movie from clichéd to cheesy.

Pride isn’t going to be an Oscar contender, but it isn’t one of the worst movies out there, sports movie or not.  This is director Sunu Gonera’s debut film, and he manages to get some first-rate performances out of the leads.  If it weren’t for that one scene, we might have gotten a sports movie that stands out from the pack of sports movies.  I’m assuming that Gonera won’t necessarily do another sports movie again as his next project, but if he does, I hope that he takes out any scene that comes off as sappy or cheesy.  That way he can take pride in the movie.


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