'Glory Road" is a rah-rah piece of inspirationalism from Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who obviously wants to go one better on his "Remember the Titans."
It's about El Paso's Texas Western basketball team that, in 1966, beat the University of Kentucky for the NCAA national championship. The game is often called the greatest upset in the history of college athletics. Far be it for me to disagree. The film's "inspired by a true story" opening credit makes me a bit uneasy, though. That phrase is usually code for "we made a lot of stuff up."
As in "Remember the Titans," "Glory Road" is about how race plays itself out on the battlefield of sports - i.e. the battlefield of life. The Texas Western coach, Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) is a white man who decides to recruit young black players from around the country. He wants to win. He relentlessly pursues talent and claims he does not see color, although of course, he does - just not in a bigoted way.
At first, the white players resent the intrusion of the blacks, who are not only clearly superior but also clannish. (Their leader is played with a perpetual swagger by Derek Luke.) A free-for-all in the college cafeteria kicks off the animosities between the two sides, and Haskins finds himself playing peacekeeper as much as coach. But the urge to win is so strong that soon everyone comes together. As Texas Western climbs the ranks, even the college's lily-white trustees overcome their qualms about the overwhelmingly black squadron. In the championship game, Haskins decides to use only his black hoopsters because they are his best.
It seems unthinkable now that there was ever a time when the sports establishment believed black people incapable of playing intelligent basketball. There's a massively ironic moment in the movie when a white potentate pooh-poohs the notion that "Negroes" represent the future of the game.
Because the filmmakers are so intent on using this story as a shining example of social uplift, they don't come to terms with its darker aspects. Sure, we are shown some of the effects of racism on the team: the hazing, the razzing, and worse. But Haskins comes across as too pure. When he plays only his black athletes in the championship finals, his monomania is presented as a good thing. After all, he won, didn't he?
But the white players whose proud parents traveled great distances to watch their sons play in the greatest game of their lives must have been, to say the least, disappointed - not to mention the white players themselves, who are shown to be entirely in agreement with the decision. "Inspired by a true story." It's life as it should be, not as it always is. Grade: C+
• Rated PG for racial issues including violence and epithets, and momentary language.