Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Terrence Howard, Bernie Mac, Kimberly Elise, Tom Arnold, Brandon Fobbs, Alphonso McAuley, Regine Nehy, Nate Parker, Kevin Phillips, Scott Reeves, Evan Ross, Gary Anthony Sturgis
Written by: Kevin Michael Smith, Michael Gozzard, J. Mills Goodloe, Norman Vance Jr.
Directed by: Sunu Gonera
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic material, language including some racial epithets, and violence
Running Time: 104
Date: 03/14/2007
IMDB

Pride (2007)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Nobody's Pool

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Of all the Hollywood factory formula movies, the based-on-a-true-story, inspirational-sports-movie is one of the most difficult. No matter how preposterous or overcooked the narrative gets, it can be backed up with, "but it really happened." These films come with their own built-in protective wall of seriousness, as if to say, "this film is a tribute to an honorable hero. If you disparage the film, you disparage the man."

That said, the new film Pride arrives like a checklist of noble things that happened in Philadelphia in the summer of 1974. It ticks them off one by one, and sets up all the usual crowd-pleasing moments, but without ever getting inside any of them. Newcomer director Sunu Gonera starts off well by establishing the feel of a hot summer day in the 1970s. A selection of great pop/funk tunes blast from the soundtrack (beginning with The O'Jays' "Backstabbers"), while kids run around in tiny shorts and long socks.

Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard), a former swimmer who faced racial tensions while competing in meets, now works cleaning up the Philadelphia Department of Recreation before the city shuts it down. It so happens that five good kids who play basketball in front of the building all have natural swimming ability, and so Jim invites them into the pool. Within a matter of months, the five boys, plus a girl (Regine Nehy) who just shows up out of the blue, are good enough to compete in real swim meets, and to seriously challenge champion swimmers with years of experience.

Maybe this really happened, but Gonera lacks the skill to make it seem real within the context of a fictional movie. His main problem is that he skips over large chunks of time without any concept of rhythm or flow. For example, when Jim discovers the Rec Center's empty, disused indoor swimming pool he fills it up in what looks like one day using a garden hose. (And did he clean it first? Did he use chlorine? The movie doesn't say.) The movie also establishes early on that Jim sleeps at the Rec Center. Does he continue to sleep there? Why?

Those are just the first in a long series of problems. Gonera leaves out the seemingly mundane details that would fill in the gaps and provide a sense of reality. Gonera strands his actors as well. The usually commanding Howard somehow forgets his fearsome side -- which he certainly could have used as a coach -- and instead lets his voice quaver while spilling tears. The film goes through a lot of tears. Bernie Mac, cast with nothing to do as Jim's sidekick, looks especially awkward in them. He gets maybe three funny wisecracks in, and otherwise just stands around with streams running down his cheeks.

Maybe there was too much chlorine in the pool.

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