Based on a true story, "Glory Road" (IMDb listing) tells the story of Don Haskins (Josh Lucas, "Stealth"), a small-time basketball coach who, in 1966, took the lowly Texas Westerns to the NCAA championship. He was also the first college basketball coach to integrate his team with African American players (including Derek Luke, "Antwone Fisher"), causing an immediate firestorm of controversy. The film explores Haskins' struggles, along with those of his team as they battle for ultimate victory.
Did you like "Remember the Titans?" I mean really like it? Because producer Jerry Bruckheimer and the Walt Disney Corporation have plowed through the annals of sports history to serve up almost the exact same story, this time taking their dubious intentions to the world of college basketball. I wasn't a fan of "Titans;" I found the film an insufferable, simplistic creation that made a mockery of real-life racism in the 1960s. "Road" simply reheats the same stew.
Bruckheimer has chosen James Gartner to make his directing debut with "Road," and the newcomer seems like an apt choice, since this a film that doesn't require much direction. "Road" is formula at its most poisonous, with Gartner mechanically visualizing the Crayola script, regardless of how ridiculous the film gets. "Road" is grabbing at inspirational and heart-warming messages, but the screenplay is entirely obnoxious, plugging up any honest thrill of this story with appalling caricatures of Caucasians (who wave Confederate flags at the final game), one-dimensional supporting roles (Emily Deschanel, as Haskins' wife, is given nothing to play), and bestowing immediate sainthood on any black character within striking distance. The script even gives one player a heart defect for him to overcome, just to jackhammer home the point that these guys had everything against them. There is simply nothing resembling real life in the film, just basic cable motivations and infantile storytelling that somehow lucked itself into a big screen release pattern and budget. I can't fault Bruckheimer for softening the story, but in his pursuit to make a film that has vicious mass appeal, he's bled the humanity and emotional weight completely out of this significant historical achievement.
If it wasn't for Josh Lucas' spazzy performance as Haskins, there wouldn't be anything in "Road" to recommend. Lucas has the perfect idea to ignore the rest of the movie, and focus deeply on the scorching passion Haskins has for the game. Lucas is completely authentic in the role, and adds to the electricity of the repetitive game sequences with his fiery courtside demeanor. Of course, he still has to deal with the script's obsession with never-ending inspirational speeches (a Derek Luke specialty) and grotesque paint-by-numbers plotting, but he's good here, against all the odds.
What really frosts my cookies about "Road" is the absence of a true team portrait for the Texas Westerns. By only focusing in on the black members, Gartner has done a great disservice to the other athletes who helped define the team's winning season. "Road" provides the faintest of characterizations for these players, only calling them in to continually diminish their role in the team's importance, or to use them as cartoons to help underscore their differences in skin color. What a shame. To confuse matters, "Road" closes with a real snapshot of the winning team. In the picture, we see the whole squad, standing together proud and victorious, bringing on one and only thought: who were those white and Hispanic dudes?
Filmfodder Grade: D