The feature debut from South African director Sunu Gonera is straight from the sports-film playbook, the one in which an underdog team coached by an obstinate overachiever overcomes obstacles and adversity to take home the gold. It's Hoosiers in a swimming pool—well, Glory Road, anyway, given that this is about a group of black swimmers competing against all-white teams who wouldn't toss the brothers a life preserver if they were drowning in the deep end. Like most sports pics, Pride is based on a true-life tale, that of Jim Ellis (played here by Terrence Howard), a former college swimmer who, in the 1970s, resuscitates a Philly rec center by filling the pool with water and some neighborhood kids with hope. Destined to be drug-runners for a dangerous but ultimately dim neighborhood thug, the kids instead excel between the lane ropes. If everything about the movie is overly familiar, at least Gonera and his writers get the details right; the pool sequences capture the isolation of the competitive swimmer who crawls for miles in lonely, aching silence. Howard, playing Ellis with equal measures of desperation and determination, is terrific—when is he not? Better still is Bernie Mac as the rec center's janitor, who is suspicious of Ellis' motives until at last he dives in. If nothing else, Pride has the best sports-film soundtrack ever—Philly funk and soul, '70s style. And hell, that'll get ya wet.
Changing lanes: Howard (left) and Bernie Mac.
Opens at Meridian and other theaters, Fri., March 23. Rated PG. 104 minutes.