The best inspirational sports flicks are like Twinkies. Their cores are fluffy and their exteriors are sugar coated, but at least you’re smiling like an idiot after you consume them. “Pride,” even with the triple threat of an underdog story, racial themes and Terrence Howard, only wishes it was such a guilty pleasure.
Instead, “Pride” is your Aunt Kathy’s slimy, Technicolor fruitcake. Its intentions are good, but dang if it isn’t impossible to swallow. The “based on actual events” film is a profile of Philadelphia’s own Jim Ellis striving to help troubled youth in the anything but color blind 1970s.
With a college degree in hand, Ellis (played by Howard) receives a measly wage from the city to dismantle Nicetown’s former beacon of hope: the neglected athletic center.
The typical underdog plot follows – Ellis teaches a ragtag bunch of neighborhood kids to swim in the center’s pool and they transform from cats in water to tadpoles.
Tension builds as “the man” brings them down two-fold. The team, nicknamed
PDR, loses to the khaki-clad white snobs and the city moves forward in its plan to demolish Nicetown’s athletic center. And then the fairy godmother arrives with a magical wand and teleports the film’s conflicts to a land far, far away.
Well, pretty much.
In about 10 minutes Ellis’ team wins the state championship, the white racist pigs come to their senses and respect
PDR and Philadelphia halts the center’s destruction.
And best of all, the neighborhood drug dealer who once commanded the town’s money and young minds, is reduced to peeing in pools for revenge.
Therein lies the film’s tragic flaw – the is watered down in an era that was saturated in police brutality, state supported racism and crime. It’s safe to assume that the real Ellis faced obstacles in his career that don’t exactly fall within “Pride’s” toddler safe PG rating.
At the very least, the film sheds light on a man who is unbelievably modest about his achievements. Ellis rejected many Hollywood scripts before approving the final version, which he said was mostly to help pay for his family’s hefty medical bills.
When asked how he responded to the media’s interest in his life, Ellis said he sent his parents a clip from a national magazine article chronicling his success. Humility must be in Ellis’ DNA, because his parents hung it up on their fridge like it was simply an elementary school report card.
Complexities like these can’t be found in the script, however, and leave one wishing that “Pride” was a documentary, and not a film doomed for the $5 bin at Blockbuster.
To be fair, the film has a few gems – the brightest of which are Bernie Mac, Howard and the soundtrack. Howard keeps the movie afloat by being his usual brilliant self and looks pretty darn good in a Speedo, too. Mac plays the loveable muttonchops-donning Elston, who is known for one-liners like “Where I come from, we swim naked, and I wouldn’t want to embarrass anyone.”
When fusing images of teenagers playing
basketball with soul favorites like “I’ll Take You There,” director Sunu Gonera creates the film’s greatest scenes by making summertime in Philadelphia palpable.
Unfortunately, Gonera fails to use his talent to tell a story that inspires viewers to look within themselves.
“Pride’s” biggest blunder is in not forcing us to examine how little Americans
have changed since the racist ’70s and how much we have sadly stayed the same.
Holly Otterbein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. conflict