Terrence Howard, Bernie Mac, Tom Arnold, Kimberly Elise
Director: Sunu Gonera
If Ari Gold were pitching “Pride,” the latest in a long line of true-life sports dramas, he’d probably describe it as “‘Coach Carter’ underwater.” The film, which tells the tale of a group of troubled teens who are given a second chance at life under the tutelage of a dedicated mentor, may turn off many moviegoers who are tired of watching the same formulaic tearjerker, but that doesn’t make “Pride” any less inspirational. And while many of the same morals apply to the tale at hand, the change in subject matter makes it feel just fresh enough to enjoy.
Philadelphia, 1973. The racial tension in America has finally begun to subside, but the lack of opportunities for African-Americans has not. College-educated Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard) learns this the hard way when he’s turned down by the racist superintendent (Tom Arnold) at a snooty, all-white private school. Desperate for a job, he accepts a temporary post with the city to help close down an abandoned recreational center, but when a group of neighborhood kids (destined to be street thugs for the local drug kingpin, of course) take to Ellis’ passion for swimming, the unlikely coach transforms the motley crew into the city’s first African-American swim team.
As you can expect, “Pride” features its share of conflict, racial tension and training montages (what’s a sports drama without one?), but it’s also conscious of these classic trappings, and first-time director Sunu Gonera tries her best to shake things up. She also earns a gold star for removing the stereotypical characters that you usually find hanging around a film of this sort. Sure, each kid has their differences, but their individual qualities are never used as a device for delivering lazily written drama. As for the script itself -- well, it gets the job done. In fact, one could imagine Howard and Bernie Mac (who plays Ellis’ janitor sidekick, Elston) grimacing as they deliver the clichéd dialogue, but it isn't so. Both men obviously have a deep appreciation for the source material, and it shows in their performances. Howard continues to impress as one of Hollywood’s newest and most talented leading men, while Mac steals every scene he’s in.
Perhaps it’s that the film takes place around a sport other than football or basketball, or maybe it’s just because the lively audience made it that much more exciting to watch, but “Pride” excels as one of the better underdog sports films of the past few years. That may not be entirely encouraging considering its company, but when you take into account the vast number of genre films that have been released in this short time frame, it’s more than a welcome surprise.
It was a bit surprising to see “Pride” perform so badly at the box office, but the single-disc release of the film is downright insulting. With the exception of a director commentary, the only other special features included are two (count ‘em) deleted scenes and a handful of musical montages.