The replacement

Racial fantasia on the gridiron.

AS BILL BRADLEY reminded us during his run for president, the locker room was integrated before the classroom—as his experience in the NBA taught him. Even now, sports provide—or perhaps force—racial mixing in a way that few other areas of society can achieve. It's this sentiment that Titans thrusts so earnestly at the audience in its fact-based, feel-good tale of a Virginia high school football team's 1971 winning streak. This run of luck is accomplished despite the turmoil on the coaching staff, where Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) has usurped the top job formerly held by a white guy (Will Patton).


directed by Boaz Yakin with Denzel Washington and Will Patton opens September 29 at Metro, Northgate, and Pacific Place

Newly established and little trusted, Boone has to unify both his squad and fellow coaches, resulting in many predictable minidramas involving various types and clich鳮 Everyone learns several edifying lessons, and Denzel gets to deliver a whole film's worth of inspirational halftime speeches. The movie takes you exactly where you expect, resorting to the easiest plot turns and caricatures—all in the service of racial harmony. As for its charismatic star, Washington only gets to show his stuff when he's on the offensive, verbally slapping down his recalcitrant players. Otherwise he's left with platitudes, golden light, and annoying child actors.

Titans has its heart in the right place, but its retro '70s setting doesn't square with contemporary race sensibilities. The kids bond by singing Marvin Gaye, not Dr. Dre. Even boomers may tire of the incessantly hit-happy soundtrack. The producers' decision to excise all cuss words for a G rating feels no less anachronistic. Sure, the film intends to inspire better race relations among kids, but they know old-school corn when they see it.

In its desire not to offend, the bland, inept, toothless Titans misses precisely what makes racism so offensive. It hasn't got the courage of Spike Lee or James Toback's recent Black and White. Which is odd, since football is supposed to be about guts.

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