|Glory Road (2006)
Starring: Josh Lucas, Derek Luke, Jon Voight, Emily Deschanel
Director: James Gartner
Even if it didn’t bear such frightening similarity to porno slang (anyone who has the “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” CD’s, and has heard the ad involving the amusement park “where strangers become friends,” knows what I mean), the people who decided to saddle the thoroughly enjoyable “Glory Road” with that awful title should get a thousand lashes. For all of the remarkable things that Don Haskins and his Texas Western Miners did in 1966, the movie of their lives deserved a better title than “Glory Road,” which says nothing about anything.
The movie begins with Haskins (Josh Lucas, who could pass for Kevin Costner’s little brother here) coaching high school girl’s basketball, when he gets recruited to coach Texas Western, a small Division I NCAA school. Haskins immediately realizes that he’s going to have a hell of a time getting the desirable recruits to play for him, so he scouts a bunch of black street ballers from all over to come and play for him, an unheard of idea at the time when, as trainer Ross More (Red West) points out, “you play one black player at home, two on the road, and three when you’re losing big.” The team’s returning (read: white) players, naturally, are reluctant to give up their spot to a bunch of brothers, and the brothers are reluctant to play with the crackers. That would prove to be the least of their worries over the course of the season, as they encounter hostile crowd after hostile crowd, hotel rooms with racial epithets spelled in blood, and a Kentucky dynasty led by Adolph Rupp (Jon Voight), who views them as little more than a bump in the road to another NCAA title. Fool.
The last ‘true sports’ movie that Disney released, “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” was a major misstep, but they right the course here, sticking to a story line that falls somewhere in between “Remember the Titans” (racial tension) and “Miracle” (the headstrong coach that everyone thinks is nuts). It’s better than the latter, and on par with the former, and if half of what happened to the characters in the movie is true, then they suffered way too much.
However, as funny as this movie is (for the first act, anyway), someone needs to punch up the story structure to these movies somehow. Each scene telegraphs its outcome from the first shot; A player gets mugged in a bathroom here, the players turn on each other there, and there is always the suffering wife (dutifully played here by Emily Deschanel), whose role seems to consist solely of pointing out to her husband that he’s neglecting his family. It works for now, but they would be wise not to push their luck.
The performances in movies like these always take a back seat to the story, and “Glory Road” is no exception. Lucas has a pretty good stare, and uses it well (the final game against Kentucky has about five slo-mo stare-downs). Voight may as well be wearing a white hood and carrying a burning cross, his character is such a hiss-worthy racist baddie (the validity of which is fiercely debated). Luckily, his onscreen time is so small that it causes minimal damage overall.
Some have questioned where the Texas Western team that beat Kentucky in 1966 truly leveled the playing field in college basketball the way that “Glory Road” implies, since other teams had gone to great success using black players well before Texas Western did. Still, there is no diminishing what this team accomplished; they took out a basketball powerhouse when everyone was saying that they should just be happy to be there. “Glory Road” (sigh, that title) won’t make anyone burn their copy of “Hoosiers,” but it is a more than worthy addition to the sports movie library. Still, Disney, you’ve been warned; you’ve got a good thing going, but don’t get complacent.
Disney’s DVD release of “Glory Road” may look like it’s loaded with hours of special features, but the single-disc affair boasts only a handful of extras, most of which aren’t even noteworthy. The disc features two audio commentaries, the first by director James Gartner and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and the second by writers Chris Cleveland and Bettina Gilois, but both tracks are incredibly monotonous to listen to. The rest of the bonus material includes four deleted scenes, a featurette on Dan Haskins (“Legacy of the Bear”), and another on UTEP practice sessions with former player Tim Hardaway (“Surviving Practice”), but the only special feature worth watching is the 22-minute “In their Own Words." Taking a look back with the remaining members of the 1966 championship team, the story is better told by the men themselves and would probably make for an interesting documentary.