Glory Road celebrates the 1966 Cinderella triumph of the West Texas basketball team that boasted the nation's first NCAA starting lineup of black players, but the more interesting victory in it belongs to Seattle Children's Theater veteran Josh Lucas, who plays coach Don Haskins. Lucas has been conquering Hollywood in slow motion: bit parts in great movies (You Can Count on Me, A Beautiful Mind), honest work in stink bombs (Stealth), a nice heist of scenes from Val Kilmer in the true-crime splatterpic Wonderland.
Now he graduates to a lead role, and it's a slam dunk, albeit in a basket 4 feet high. The tropes of such wish-fulfillment sports movies are so rote, it's like watching your umpteenth stage production of A Christmas Carol. Everyone knows exactly what's about to happen at every second, and that's what's so comforting about the ritual. Starting as a high-school girls coach, Haskins takes the only college job he can get (at Texas Western University) and wins by taking players nobody else wants. You may not be shocked sockless to find the kids are diamonds in the rough who only need a coach's tough love to shine. White-boy teammates graciously surrender glory to the black underdogs, and all bond in Mexican mariachi bars.
The sports-flick clichés are mildly ameliorated by triumph-over-racism clichés, but most of the thrills are of the mechanical sports sort—unexpected injuries, fouls most foul, long shots, sudden-death overtime, double-sudden-death overtime. It's fun to watch, especially in scenes featuring the outrage of Haskins' opponent, the arrogant, racist, accustomed-to-winning Kentucky coach (Jon Voight, an invaluable gift to Hollywood despite that awful daughter he spawned). Our Texas underdogs also play Seattle University, so there's another local angle.
It's impossible to describe Glory Road without making it sound impossibly boring, but in fact, it passes the time quite painlessly and tugs heartstrings with a satisfying thwop. (PG)