Well, you know what? I'm all for people feeling bad about racism. But these let's-all-join-hands-and-sing-"We Are the World" movies don't go very far to make the world a better place, because they seldom show it how bad it was—or is.
Based on a true story, Glory Road joins a never-ending list of underdogs-overcoming-insurmountable-odds sports movies that includes everything from Rocky to Remember the Titans to the slew of films last year like Rebound, Coach Carter and the remade Bad News Bears. Josh Lucas stars as Don Haskins, the former girls' high-school basketball coach who took over as head coach at West Texas College in 1965. Working with limited resources, Haskins set out to build the best team he possibly could. But when that didn't work out, he did the unthinkable: He decided to recruit black players for his starting lineup, which at the time was pretty unheard of. Miraculously, to the surprise of everyone, Haskins led his team to a near-perfect season and, in what many believe was the most important college basketball game of all time, a stunning 1966 NCAA championship over Kentucky.
It might be hard for some people to believe, but it's absolutely true: There was a time when this country treated black people kind of badly. Seriously. Black people couldn't vote (now their votes just aren't counted), there was opposition to legislation making lynching illegal, and it was a commonly held belief that blacks could not play basketball on par with whites. This is where Glory Road balances on a precarious ledge, for while it does address the racist notions that prevailed in this country, it makes the subject matter as family-friendly as possible. "You're carrying on like Negroes is the future of basketball," says assistant coach Ross Moore (Red West) in the sort of sugarcoated way the film deals with most issues regarding race.
The biggest flaw of Glory Road, however, is not the way it handles the topic of bigotry. Sure, the kid-gloves treatment of racism is less a slap in the face than a not-so-gentle caress. Even the age-old story of the brave white man who ventures into the world of noble savages only to discover they are more noble than savage is not the film's biggest weakness. Ultimately, Glory Road fails because of an uninspired script, lackluster direction, and an unending barrage of clichés. It seems amazing that a true-life tale could be so riddled with hackneyed dialogue, but then you just need to remember this same story was released at least five times last year. This is a by-the-numbers example of the sports-as-a-metaphor-for-how-to-make-the-world-a-better-place movie.
The film does have some good moments, with its biggest triumph, and most engaging sequence, coming during the final credits, when interview clips with the real-life players and Haskins flash across the screen. This serves as a reminder that there is an incredible story to be told here, and perhaps if Glory Road were a documentary, that story would have made it to the screen.
Glory Road is not a bad film. But by the same measure, it's not a good film. It is, however, a film many will enjoy. And it is a film that will give people a fairly painless reminder of the struggles faced by blacks in this country four decades ago.
Rated PG. Opens Friday, Jan. 13. Pioneer Place, Lloyd Cinema, Eastport, Division, Oak Grove, Cedar Hills, Cornelius, Hilltop, Sandy, Sherwood, Wilsonville, Cinema 99, Cinetopia, City Center.