"Glory Road" begins, as sports movies often do, with the opening transcript, "Based on the true story," but then goes one step further: "The incredible story of the team that changed the game forever." Before even a frame of footage has made its appearance, the film has set itself up on a lofty pedestala boneheaded move since what follows is anything but incredible. Directed by James Gartner with an eye for great period '60s music and not a whole lot else, "Glory Road" is about as derivative and forgettable as this genre comes, pushing the boundaries with as many cliches as can possibly fit into a 106-minute frame. And, for a film with so many intentionally comic moments that it borders on being a full-blown comedy, how telling that the only real laughs are of the unintentional variety, particularly when it comes to the over-the-top, too-cheesy-to-be-believed dialogue.
Set in the one-year period of 1965-1966, high school basketball coach Don Haskins (an unusually stale Josh Lucas) is offered the chance of a lifetime when he is asked to coach the Texas Western Miners, a Division 1 college basketball team. Packing up his devoted wife, Mary (Emily Deschanel, wasted in a thankless part), and their three kids (who are scarcely ever seen again), Don moves to the college's campus in El Paso, Texas, and begins preparing for the upcoming season. In doing so, he aims to recruit the very best of the best he can find, seeking out a talented, athletic group of young men from around the country. His choice in players is met with much criticism when the majority end up being black; in the racially charged South of the 1960s, no college basketball team ever had more than the token African-American on their roster. As the team racks up an impressive winning streak, the pressures of racism and bigotry that the men are faced with threatens to break down their morale before they make it to the NCAA Championship.
Granted, the story "Glory Road" tells is based on fact, but that doesn't excuse the gross lack of freshness and ingenuity found in Chris Cleveland's banal screenplay. As a tale about an ambitious coach who will do whatever it takes to lead his team to victory, the film is a bust, paling all the more next to such recent smart sports pictures as 2000's "Remember the Titans
," 2004's "Miracle
," and 2004's "Friday Night Lights
." "Glory Road" brings nothingand I do mean nothingnew to the table, sorely lacking in character complexity, three-dimensional relationships, and tension. Coach Don Haskins is hardly ever seen outside of the basketball court and very little is ever found out about who he is as a person. His scenes with his wife are handled in a banal, paper-thin fashion that negates them to inconsequentiality, and he is never seen with his own kids after the first five minutes.
The team of recruited basketball players are almost as poorly conceived, few with more than cursory characterization and all of them Xeroxed from every previous sports film in memory. Bobby Joe Hill (Derek Luke) is the one with the sweet-natured girlfriend (Tatyana Ali). Willie Cager (Damiane Radcliff) is the one almost forced out of the game by a heart condition. The rest are virtually interchangeable, the postscript explaining what happened to them in real life holding zero value because the viewer has never gotten to know them.
The sports movie blueprint doesn't leave much room for originalitythey all come down to the big game where the team either wins or losesbut "Glory Road" is so glaring in its outcome and so vacuous in its very archaism that all one can do while watching it is count the cobwebs. You want the training scenes where the coach pushes his players to their brink? You want a dreary, would-be dramatic locker room talk by the coach to his team? You want the hurt player whose future in playing basketball is left up in the air until the climactic game? You want the music montage complete with newspaper headlines racing across the screen as the team rides to victory? You want the silly off-the-court frivolity of the players, including trips to bars and parties? You want the coach's patient wife, whose job is to sit at home and support her husband the few times he shows up? You want a movie that is basically a remake of "Coach Carter
," only with a change in setting and time? "Glory Road" has all of this and more, none of it worth more than two cents rubbed together. If this picture's deficient quality is any indication, the sports genre is either due for a major overhaul or a long-in-the-cards burial.