As a true-life sports flick, ‘Pride’ is pretty familiar

  • By Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, March 22, 2007 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Terrence Howard labored for a long time in movies before getting his electrifying chance in “Hustle &Flow,” not to mention his role in the ensemble of the Oscar-winning “Crash.” Now he’s a star.

Which means he can now make the kind of ordinary, blah movies that other stars make. Case in point: “Pride,” an inspirational true sports tale, of the kind that Hollywood churns out every three or four months.

The movie tells the story of Jim Ellis, a former competitive swimmer, played by Howard. In 1973, we see Ellis land a job running an almost-abandoned public recreation center in Philadelphia.

Somehow Ellis cleans up the pool and gets a bunch of inner-city kids to join a swim team, which then competes against the elite schools in the city.

The true story is undeniably a wonderful one, and the movie doesn’t blow it. “Pride” is no worse than the likes of “We Are Marshall” or “Gridiron Gang,” and at times Howard’s performance lifts it into a cooler place.

Howard has slimmed down to credibly portray a swimmer, but he has the same sly, sneaky way of delivering lines – and somehow he’s figured out how to make silence seem sneaky, too.

Comedian Bernie Mac gets equal billing, as a custodian at the rec center who reluctantly gets with the Ellis program. He’s funny and serious in turns, and his 1970s hair is a pleasure to behold.

Kimberly Elise (“Diary of a Mad Black Woman”) is too good an actress to get stuck with an obligatory love interest, and in fact the movie doesn’t push this too hard. Her character is a city councilwoman with a special interest in the rec center.

The kids recruited by Ellis are generic, but the movie’s really about him. There must be a villain, of course, and here it’s a hoity-toity Philly school with a long tradition of winning swim meets (and, evidently, a long tradition of racism). Tom Arnold plays the blustery coach.

“Pride” is directed by a filmmaker from Zimbabwe, Sunu Gonera, whose first feature this is. His main achievement here, other than putting some good old O’Jays songs on the soundtrack, is letting Terrence Howard create little moments within a familiar story. That’s probably enough.

Terrence Howard stars in “Pride.”

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