There should be legislation passed that only one uplifting, “inspired by a true story” sports movie a year can be released. Maybe it could be a national holiday, an entire weekend spent watching this film, with everyone feeling energized to go after their goals and dreams at the end of it, and maybe a chili cook-off to round it all out.
While this will never happen, something needs to be done to stem the deluge of monthly inspirational, heartwarming, sports-oriented pap that the studios seem ready to cram down the audience’s throat at every opportunity. Plus, it’s one thing when Sylvester Stalone or Matthew McConaughey are relegated to this drivel, but when actual talented performers like Mark Wahlberg or Terence Howard (in the case of Pride) are being wasted in these roles, you know things can only go downhill from here.
This isn’t to say that Pride is a bad movie, far from it, but rather it has been so completely neutered in the name of hope and incitement, that it’s impossible for the movie to be anything other than inoffensive and satisfactory. In some ways, this harmless, middle-road approach is worse than being awful, because it leaves the film, despite all its good intentions, completely uninteresting and with no identity of its own.
If you’ve seen the trailer—or for that matter, any film of this ilk—you know exactly what you’re in for. A former college swimmer (Howard), who wasn’t allowed at swim meets in the ‘60s because of his race, gets a job in Philadelphia closing down a run-down, inner-city rec center. He single handedly manages to clean up the center’s pool (filling it up with a garden hose, no less), and starts a swim team with some local kids after their basketball hoop gets taken down. Just add a privileged white swim team and a hokey after-school special melodrama involving a shady drug dealer (Gary Anthony Sturgis, Diary of a Mad Black Woman), who bears a striking resemblance to Ronald Isley, and you can figure out the rest. Will the team overcome all odds? Will the rec center be saved? I bet you’re on the edge of your seat already.
The only attempt at straying from the usual formula is the fact that the film is based around swimming, though this is far from inspired. Sure, it’s not another football movie, but how much tension can really be created through competitive swimming? I’m pretty sure that on the excitement scale of sports, swimming is ranked just above mini golf and hot-dog-eating contests. (Actually, I think I’d watch a hot-dog-eating movie—they could call it Bryan’s Song).
The only thing keeping the film from being an unmitigated bore is the performances. This is the type of role Terence Howard could play in his sleep, but he brings class and likeability to the film. The strength of Howard in the film is no shock, but what is pleasantly surprising (aside from Tom Arnold’s ability to only be obnoxious half the time he’s on-screen) is Bernie Mac’s portrayal of the center’s amiable maintenance man. Mac and Howard play well off each other, and manage to keep the film the slightest bit engaging. This isn’t enough to save the film from being anything other than middling, but it does raise the question of what the cast might’ve been able to do if they had been handed material that was something other than exhausted and insubstantial. Rated PG for thematic material, language, including some racial epithets, and violence.
— reviewed by Justin Souther