Dir. Sunu Gonera
(2007, PG, 104 min)

I’m usually lenient towards films with their hearts in the right place, but is Pride‘s heart really in the right place? It is such an assembly line of cliches that it doesn’t seem like its heart is anyplace. No genuine feeling seems to have been involved in its making. It’s ostensibly based on a true story, but funny how so many sports movies based on a true story end up being the same story, with the same characters and the same story arc, the same conflicts and the same resolutions. Reality serves as the raw material, is stripped of what makes it unique, and then is delivered into the marketplace as comfortable, “feel-good” product. It is to movies what artificially flavored fruit drink is to juice.

It tells the story of Jim Ellis – played by Terrence Howard, poor Oscar-nominated Terrence Howard – a swimmer forced out of the sport by segregation, who in the 1970s takes a job with the Philadelphia Department of Recreation to help dismantle a neglected youth center. Instead he rehabilitates it and turns a group of wisecracking street kids into a formidable swimming team. The screenplay, which is credited to four writers I will be kind enough not to name, provides Jim with a grizzled old sidekick (the late Bernie Mac, who deserved better), a love interest who at first doubts him (Kimberly Elise, who deserves better), and a villainous rival swim team that no doubt arrived from the rink across the street where they faced the Mighty Ducks. The coach of the rival team is played by Tom Arnold, and even he deserves better. Critic Gene Siskel had a simple litmus test: “Is this film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?” Pride isn’t even as interesting as the lunch menu.

But wait, there’s more. One of Ellis’s swimmers is a shy boy with a stutter, and, wouldn’t you know it, he’s entrusted to swim the anchor leg of the Big Race; “You can do it!” insists the team captain. The boy is reluctant, but the captain insists that it’s not how fast he can swim that matters – “The anchor’s gotta have the biggest heart!” Though from what I understand of the rules of a swimming competition, the guy who swims the fastest usually wins. There’s also a terrible subplot about a local thug who tries to bully Ellis’s swimmers into committing crimes for him. What is his criminal enterprise? We never find out. At one point he talks about making a “delivery,” which sounds about as sinister as driving the UPS truck. In the middle of the film, a female swimmer is introduced to the team. Who is she? Where does she come from? Beats me. She materializes out of thin air at the youth center and ceases to exist when there’s no pool around; she may be some kind of sea nymph.

You know that classic fake-out scene where one person appears dejected and says something like, “[Main character], I don’t know how to tell you this, but … we won!” This film has one of those too, and it goes on for so long that the person being tricked doesn’t even play along. This is a very bad film, scavenged from the bones of better rip-offs, to the point where the filmmakers don’t ever seem to have had an original thought, even by accident. They say even a broken clock is right twice a day. This is a broken clock without the hands or numbers.