Jim Ellis, a Philadelphia recreation center swim coach, is the true life basis for “Pride.” A light, escapist flick, “Pride” is Hollywood’s newest “Sports Savior” film.
Terrence Howard portrays Jim Ellis, an African American swimmer with a master’s degree in mathematics who can’t find a job because universities find him too black and the black community ridicules him for being educated. Finally, when he can’t find a teaching or coaching job, he takes a job for the City of Philadelphia to pack up a closing recreation center. There he meets crotchety center maintenance man, Elston (Bernie Mac). He reopens the pool and encourages youth to come and swim. What was first recreation, changes when he trains Puddin Head (Brandon Fobbs), Walt (Alphonso McAuley), Willie (Regine Nehy), Hakim (Nate Parker) and Andre (Kevin Phillips) to be competitive swimmers. Each of the characters faces a personal struggle including facing the streets alone, losing an important part of their life, being small, racism, and being abandoned.
Terrence Howard’s performance struggles a little in the beginning of the film but as the film progresses, he finds his groove and becomes Jim Ellis. By the end of the movie, I was wrapped in his story, rooting for his success and wishing I could fight his battles for him. Howard’s “Pride” performance is one more example of why he is one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood today. He is the only actor in the film who can carry off the dramatic scenes with out making forcing out drama like toothpaste from a tube.
Who knew being a cantankerous old man would be so easy for Bernie Mac? Well, anyone who has ever seen him perform, of course. Still, his performance is funny and sweet. He spends a good portion of the movie trying to convince the city to not shut down the recreation center. Bernie Mac is adorable when he begs with a city council woman, bribing her with chocolate covered cherries. He always has a quick quip for the kids that will make you chuckle. His chemistry with Terrance Howard is like chocolate and strawberries, a timeless combination.
The when the kids get together, they rail on each other in ways that would make strangers cry but amongst friends is gut jiggling humor. At no time did I break out in wild hysteria, they did leave me smiling though most of the movie. Disappointingly, none of the youth hit the mark when it came to their personal struggles or any dramatic scenes. Their performances reminded me of tofu, rolled in bread crumbs and baked for an hour and a half: total blandness.
The two antagonists in the film, Franklin (Gary Anthony Sturgis) and The Bink (Tom Arnold) suffer from melodrama. The Bink is the white oppressor in the movie but he tries too hard to be racist. He never has a look of disgust that isn’t scripted toward the black swimmers or coaches. He only speaks racist, but he doesn’t act it. Gary Anthony Sturgis plays the drug boss that runs the neighborhood. When he gets angry he puts his lips in his mouth and tilts his chin up. When he gets angry face he looks like a black iguana and reminded me of when I was in junior high and the boys would puff themselves up before a fight over the chance to ask a girl out. I felt no fear of him and am entirely sure that I could punch him out or at least knock him down. The casting director relied too much on the fact that he is big and black and not enough of whether or not he could be scary.
I am not a big fan of the “Savior Sports” genre of movies. I think anything that keeps at risk youth busy and away from drug dealers will achieve the same goals as sports. Still, “Pride”’s competitive scenes are surprisingly exhilarating. At the end of the movie I was only half cheeking my seat, as was everyone else in the theater.
Except for the ending, nearly nothing dramatic in the movie really clicks. Screenwriters Kevin Michael Smith, Michael Gozzard, J.Mills Goodloe, Norman Vance Jr. do a poor job of writing dramatic situations that have resonance. I suspect some of the actors could have done a better job if given a better script and better direction. There was a lot of pre-production work needed to be done on “Pride” that was either dreadfully done or detrimentally ignored.
“Pride” won’t go down in the annals of history as the best “Sports Savior” movie in history but it is a fun, feel good movie for when you just need to escape. It is also a safe choice for a pre-teen or early teenager or people who believe in the power of sports to change the lives of people.
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