"Pride" combines the two main themes in the current plethora of sports movies -- the inspirational victory and a "Bad News Bears" team that goes from ragtag to riches. Throw in historical black empowerment, too, which does occasionally crop up in films like "Glory Road." Thus, the problem facing a film like "Pride" is that it feels like something we saw a month ago. Yes, Terrence Howard delivers another solid lead performance and competition swimming is a new arena for such films. Nonetheless, "Pride" is just plain trite.
The presence of Howard and popular comedian-actor Bernie Mac, who also is quite good, certainly will help the theatrical release by Lionsgate. Boxoffice probably will be in the midrange with perhaps greater potential on DVD.
The central figure is Jim Ellis, who has coached swim teams composed mostly of blacks from the Philadelphia Department of Recreation for more than 35 years. The screenplay, attributed to four writers,Kevin Michael Smith, Michael Gozzard, J. Mills Goodloe and Norman Vance Jr., is a semi-fictional take on the early years when the Marcus Foster Recreational Center suffered from community neglect and was nearly shut down.
Jim (Howard) is no white knight when he initially walks into the graffiti-marred, unkempt facility in 1973. He's just guy who needs a job. In a scene heavy with portent of future showdowns, Jim is denied employment at a white school by a racist coach (Tom Arnold). But he does land a temporary job that amounts to little more than helping to shut down the Marcus Foster Rec Center.
When the city removes the basketball rims from the courts outside, local players drift into the center to discover a remarkably pristine swimming pool. Pretty soon, Jim, who swam competitively in college, is teaching them the butterfly and back strokes. Predictably, the guys are soon eager for competition. And, predictably, their first meet takes place against the preppy Main Line school team coached by Arnold. They get humiliated. One swimmer hits his head against the end of the pool. Another loses his trunks.
So the team buckles down to work, learns to swim much better and gets two more rematches with their nemesis team. In one, the white team refuses to compete in the Rec Center's pool. In the other, a state championship is on the line. The outcome also is predictable.
Howard glides through the story with professional elan, his natural charisma doing most of the work. Bernie Mac for once is playing a character who his not Bernie Mac, and he is terrific as the rec center custodian. Kimberly Elise can't do much with the routine role of a swimmer's sister and a city councilman who has the juice to help the center survive if she so chooses.
The movie supplies both a white and black villain. Along side Arnold's smirking coach is Gary Sturgis' ghetto hood, a character without much dimension or any rationale for harassing a swimming team.
The young actors playing the swimmers aren't given much to work with other than a single defining characteristic -- a stutter for one and glasses indicating braininess for another. But they are attractive actors and solid athletes.
Under the direction of neophyte Sunu Gonera, who might be the first Hollywood director to hail from Zimbabwe, the film is technically proficient. Matthew F. Leonetti's camerawork is polished and fluid, while designer Steve Saklad handles period details well. A soundtrack of "Philly Soul" -- familiar music from the songwriting team of Gamble and Huff -- makes for great listening.
Director: Sunu Gonera
Screenwriters: Kevin Michael Smith, Michael Gozzard, J. Mills Goodloe, Norman Vance Jr.
Story: Kevin Michael Smith, Michael Gozzard
Producers: Brett Forbes, Patrick Rizzotti, Michael Ohoven, Adam Rosenfelt, Paul Hall
Executive producers: Terrence Howard, Victoria Fredrick, Sam Nazarian, Eberhard Kayser, Malcolm Petal, Kimberly C. Anderson, Mike Paseornek, John Sacchi
Cinematographer: Matthew F. Leonetti
Production designer: Steve Saklad
Music: Aaron Zigman
Costume designer: Paul Simmons
Editor: Billy Fox
Jim Ellis: Terrence Howard
Elston: Bernie Mac
Sue Davis: Kimberly Elise
Bink: Tom Arnold
Puddin Head: Brandon Fobbs
Walt: Alphonso McAuley
Willie: Regine Nehy
Hakim: Nate Parker
Andre: Kevin Phillips
Running time -- 108 minutes
MPAA rating: PG