After having seen a thousand feel-good sports dramas -- Rudy, Remember the Titans, We Are Marshall, Glory Road and so on ad infinitum (and in many cases ad nauseam) -- you'd think that I'd be inclined to sneer at Pride. Or dismiss it as hokey, old-timey, sentimental, manipulative. Well, I actually want to celebrate Pride for being hokey, old-timey, sentimental and manipulative in the best possible way -- and also for being well-made, smarter than it has to be, packed with pleasures and full of rousing depictions of both the pleasures of competition and the hard work it takes to achieve excellence. Plus it's got an amazing Philly soul soundtrack, a steadfast-but-never-dull lead performance by Terrence Howard and Bernie Mac in what I'll call, for lack of a better phrase, the Ernest Borgnine role. Yeah, Pride is a standard-issue production-line sports drama. But Jaguars come off production lines too.
Howard plays Jim Ellis, and in a pre-credit sequence we see Ellis's swimming career as a youth -- and how a meet in 1964 North Carolina spoiled swimming for him. As the credits begin -- lettering that looks like it was pulled off the side of a Chevy van over scenes of '70s Philadelphia while the soundtrack roars with the O'Jay's "Back Stabbers" -- it's years later, and Ellis just wants a job. Any job. He tries to get a gig coaching at the local academy, but the headmaster's indifferent, and as Howard stands in a polyester suit in front of retro-atheletic banners, Pride looks like a scene from The White Shadow. And the white shadow is in the room -- Ellis's job application is pretty much rejected outright by the snotty headmaster -- Tom Arnold, who puts a few spins on a rote role throughout the film. Ellis gets a job down at the unemployment office, preparing an inner-city recreation center for demolition.