Though based upon a specific true story, Pride most closely resembles virtually every other inspirational Hollywood melodrama, its blueprint so conventional and creaky it’s astounding that the film’s actors manage to deliver their clichéd lines without rolling their eyes. Sunu Gonera’s directorial debut focuses on Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard), an African-American swimmer who brawled with cops after suffering racist cruelty in 1964 North Carolina, and later found redemption in 1974 Philadelphia by molding a group of wayward kids into an elite swim team. Determined to succeed after white, preppy Main Line Academy’s bigot president (Tom Arnold) rejects him for being “a person like yourself,” Ellis gets a job helping shut down a Department of Recreation center run by Elston (Bernie Mac). His plans change, however, when he discovers that the dilapidated building houses a sparkling clean pool and convinces a group of basketball-playing teens to give the breaststroke a try. Obstacles pop up with such predictable regularity you could time their appearance with a stopwatch, as Ellis is forced to contend with a nasty drug-dealer (Gary Anthony Sturgis), an intolerant community, a crew of goof-offs who don’t realize the opportunity before them, and an attractive congresswoman (Kimberly Elise) who not only plans to close the facility, but won’t allow her brother Hakim (Nate Parker) to remain on the squad unless he also stays in school. Gonera’s sub-par camerawork and cookie-cutter montages set to ‘70s R&B are just as cheesy as the other elements of her feel-good yarn, which banally illustrates how Ellis and his charges’ personal triumph was also, in the end, the community’s as well. Inner demons are vanquished, stirring athletic and moral victories are achieved, and Elston—compelled to action and ultimately tears by Ellis’s efforts—becomes a churchgoing man. Howard, meanwhile, brings enough heart to his speechifying mentor role to prove that he can headline this type of standard-issue schmaltz. His performance, however, doesn’t come close to counteracting the triteness of Pride, which lays on the uplift so thickly that it drowns in its own formulaic corniness.
- 104 min
- Sunu Gonera
- Kevin Michael Smith, Michael Gozzard, J. Mills Goodloe, Norman Vance
- Terrence Howard, Bernie Mac, Kimberly Elise, Tom Arnold, Kevin Phillips, Nate Parker, Regine Nehy, Alphonso McAuley, Evan Ross, Gary Anthony Sturgis
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