2006Director: James Gartner
Cast: Josh Lucas, Derek Luke, Jon Voight
erry Fuckin’ Bruckheimer.
That’s all the information you need, really. A super-producer of the Laying It on Nice and Thick variety, Bruckheimer, with few exceptions, has foddered two ridiculous decades’ worth of bad movie nights. His latest outing, Glory Road (obvious porn-parody title: Glory Hole), is an Inspirational Sports Film from whence the cheese doth flow. Team Bruckheimer is in full-on attack mode here, all but holding a gun to your head to get you up on your feet cheering.
For filmmakers, there is no safer bet than the underdog sports movie, especially with that ubiquitous “inspired by true events” selling point. The annals of sports history, I imagine, are riddled with tales of barriers being broken and impossible odds being triumphed against—and such stories are appealingly hard to screw up. The scripts, in which the charismatic new coach leads the team of underdog misfits to a David-and-Goliath victory, actually do write themselves, via a computer program that ensures the following things happen:
-The determined coach must be an ex-athlete whose own shot at the big time was ruined by an injury or inner demons.Most sports movies pick a few of these elements and call it a day, but Glory Road makes a point of milking every recognizable cliche, as if director James Gartner and screenwriters Christopher Cleveland and Bettina Gilois were working from a checklist, in the process doing a great disservice to the truly inspiring real-life tale of the 1965-66 Texas Western University men’s basketball team. It’s hard to say how much of this movie is true and how much has been Bruckheimered, but the basic facts are: Coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) ignored unspoken codes of racial integration by aggressively recruiting black players. An all-black Texas Western team won the NCAA championship against a dominant Kentucky squad coached by the legendary Adolph Rupp (Jon Voight), thus rewriting the rules of how a basketball team could be assembled.
-Coach will make clear that options are limited to his way and the highway.
-The team will bond during superfluous training montages and off-court shenanigans.
-One player's misbehavior will result in the entire team being punished with strenuous physical conditioning.
-Every significant development in the Big Game will be accompanied by an appropriate reaction shot from a loved one of whichever player is responsible for said development.
-A key player will get injured at the worst possible time.
-Coach and his dutiful wife will have a heart-to-heart about how perhaps the team is too high a priority in his life.
-At least one player's academic performance will nearly disqualify him from competition.
-Coach will tell him school is what's most important, though Coach's attitude in every other scene suggests he believes otherwise.
-The team's winning streak will be helpfully illustrated by a montage that includes newspaper headlines.
-Slow motion will be excessively employed.
A story like that deserves, nay, demands, a good movie, but the Disney treatment has resulted in a film no more or less exciting than The Mighty Ducks. Here’s a movie with all the visual competence one would expect of a Bruckheimer production, but also all the shortcomings in storytelling and character development. As critics sometimes note, Bruckheimer films aren’t really even films per se, but closer, instead, to extended trailers for themselves. This is indeed the case here. Not a single scene in Glory Road feels complete; lots of well-composed images on display, but very little grasp of basic film continuity or consistency of tone.
In one scene, Coach Haskins is having a Serious Conversation with one of his players in the locker room before the film cuts, seemingly at random, to the two of them standing in the middle of the gym, still talking. Same conversation, but an abrupt shift in setting with no apparent explanation. At the film’s outset, much to do is made about Haskins and his family living in the student dorms because the cash-strapped athletics program can’t afford to accommodate them otherwise. The family is later shown in a residence clearly containing a kitchen, living room and at least two bedrooms. Either Texas Western has the best dorms on Earth, or the filmmakers, again, neglect to explain something that, while not exactly crucial to the story, could have maybe been covered in five seconds of dialogue. Did he get a raise? Did the team’s successful season serve to expand the school’s athletics budget? Whatever.
The acting is generally solid. Lucas, who with Stealth proved he could convincingly perform bad material, is well cast in a role that mostly requires screaming and impassioned speech-making. To further bludgeon each emotional cue into our heads, Lucas’s every word is soundtracked by the gratuitous swellings of an orchestra, no matter the context. “Your dignity lies inside you.” = orchestra swells. “I’m starting all black players in tomorrow’s game.” = orchestra swells. “I have a bowel obstruction.” = orchestra swells. Well, no one said the road to glory was pretty.