'Pride' movie treads water

Facing off against four computer animated crime fighting turtles and 300 high-octane Spartan soldiers with digitally enhanced slaughter sequences, Pride is holding a steady number nine spot at the box office after its weekend opening. With America’s thirst for high flying action and otherworldly mayhem, the odds were stacked against this sports story of triumph. The empty plot and conventional sports angle betray it, but while predictable for some, the picture’s appeal may be a result of the scarcity of brown skin on the big screen lately.

Set in the slums of 1973 Philadelphia, Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard) can’t seem to get a job, even with his college degree. A competitive swimmer at heart, Jim takes a low-paying job restoring a dilapidated swimming pool hall. When city officials set the building for demolition, Jim recruits black teens from the low income neighborhood to form a swim team with a chance at the all-white state championships, and as a force to change the city’s mind about destroying the recreational center. Racism proves to be the challenge for Jim and his ragtag crew.

Newcomer Evan Ross, brother of “Girlfriends” star and NAACP Image Award winner Tracee Ellis Ross, and son of Diana Ross, makes his first return to the big screen since “ATL”. Up and coming actor Alphonso McAuley, recognizable from countless commercials and 2006’s Glory Road,plays a teen who is always primed and ready to retouch his afro; traveling with a hair pick in hand. We know that funny runs through his veins, but here, Bernie Mac as the crotchety janitor ‘Elston’ is a more sentimental version of the Mac that we are used to. It is actually Kevin Phillips, or more particularly, his supple lips and water speckled body that steals the show.

With hot bodies on both the P.D.R. and rival team, the real draw might actually be the beauty of the human body piercing through the crystal blue water. The pervasive sex appeal of the male actors, made evident by shirtless and sweat drenched basketball games followed by a good hosing down for everyone, is only offset by the chipmunk spunk of actress Regine Nehy. As the only girl on the team, she is ironically given the masculine name "Willie." From thigh high cut-off shorts to form fitting bell bottoms and barely there Speedos, the flick is certainly a feast for the eyes, both artistically and otherwise. Other than this, not much more is especially noteworthy.

But for a couple of confrontation scenes with Jim’s P.D.R. team versus The Bink’s (Tom Arnold) all-white team uttering all too familiar race related quips, and the solid gold soul soundtrack featuring The O’Jays; The Staple Singers; and Aretha Franklin to name a few, the film could easily be watched with the sound turned off. At least then we wouldn’t have to reckon with Howard’s often watery eyed, frog-in-throat delivery; his card in sleeve for conveying burgeoning gumption and sincerity. Tom Arnold isn’t far behind, leaving audiences wishing he would either blow his nose or snort ‘n spit to relieve his apparent nasal congestion. 

Just as obvious as the double meaning behind the warning painted on the wall in the pool area, “No clowning in or out of pool,” the movie’s message of pride, determination, and resilience is clear well before Howard’s character breaks down the acronym for us. In contrast, the horrible message sold to audiences when the racist team befriends P.D.R. immediately after their big win is that respect should indeed be earned, not offered up front.

Yet another film featuring a predominately black cast, an indicative up-tempo drumbeat and horns support the trailer (though the film has nothing to do with a college marching band or any other kind of band), and the standard racism thread is weaved into the storyline. If this trend persists, audiences might begin to wonder if studios have decided that these are the elements necessary to sell a “black movie” to a black audience.

Several peculiarities plague the film, including the unconvincing stuttering which afflicts Evan Ross’ character; the uncontrollable tears Ross’ character sheds at the notion of selling drugs for a local pimp; the ever present abundance of water throughout via water hoses and fire hydrants; the baseless and inexplicable champion cry, “This is our house couch!”, which each P.D.R. member individually shouts atop the diving platform as Jim looks on in tears; and the Lion King-esque chant which closes the film.

Based on the true story of an inner city swim coach, I’m sure that his struggles are screen worthy. Unfortunately, this film doesn't tell his story well. Though, in all honesty, I am not above watching it several more times just for the half naked bodies.

Genre: Drama, Biopic and Sports
Runtime: 1hr 48min
Release: March 23, 2007
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic material, language (including racial epithets), and violence.

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