Pride

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Sure, there’s a new based-on-a-true-story inspiring sports drama released every couple weeks. But how often are they about African American athletes who face racism as they try to prove themselves? About half the time? Oh. Well, how often are they about the sport of swimming? That’s right! Hardly ever!

Thankfully, we now have “Pride” to fill that need. Armed with a funky-cool vintage soundtrack and Terrence Howard’s sensitive-guy charisma, it tells the story of Jim Ellis (Howard), who swam in college and now, in 1974, has taken a job with the Philadelphia Department of Recreation. He’s supposed to be helping close down an underused facility, but he winds up keeping it open so that a handful of teenage boys can use the swimming pool.

Now, I don’t know how I feel about a strange man luring teenage boys away from the outdoor basketball court into swim trunks and a pool, but I suppose those were simpler times in 1974. The point is, Jim is pleased to be “coaching,” however unofficially, and Elston (Bernie Mac), the maintenance man who keeps an eye on the facility, is glad the place is staying open a bit longer.

Soon Jim has formed the kids into something approximating a team, and they enter themselves into meets against other rec centers and schools. Predictably, the first meet is against Main Line Academy, the snooty, all-white school where Jim applied for a job and was shooed away by the arrogant dean (Tom Arnold). Also predictably, Jim’s kids lose that meet, what with it being their first time and needing to learn a lesson and all. Don’t worry, though! There will be a rematch at the end of the film!

The kids fall under the usual categories: the hothead (Kevin Phillips), the younger, shy stutterer (Evan Ross), the kid whose guardian thinks he should focus on school instead of wasting his time swimming, and, I don’t know, a few others. One of them wears glasses, and one of them is a girl. There’s not a lot distinguishing them beyond that.

Despite being a cookie-cutter film with no surprises, the movie has been directed by newcomer Sunu Gonera with enthusiasm and, well, pride. If he was making a movie that has already been made a thousand times, no one told him that, and it’s hard to actively dislike a movie as uncynical and straightforward as this one. But as footage of the real Jim Ellis and captions describing his accomplishments were shown at the end, I couldn’t help thinking a documentary about the man would be so much more interesting than a watered-down, by-the-numbers dramatization.

C+ (1 hr., 44 min.; PG, scattered profanity, a fistfight.)

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