Remember the Titans
2000, PG, 113 min. Directed by Boaz Yakin. Starring Kate Bosworth, Craig Kirkwood, Kip Pardue, Hayden Panettiere, Nicole Ari Parker, Ethan Suplee, Ryan Hurst, Wood Harris, Donald Faison, Will Patton, Denzel Washington.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 29, 2000
While the rest of the world has its collective eyeballs on the big games down under, Disney has seen fit to offer viewers stateside some sporting rah-rahs of their own in the form of this woefully simplistic football-as-metaphor-for-racial-unity flick. I realize I'm a tad out of touch here, but when did we switch from “baseball, apple pie, and Mom,” to “football, jail time, and nasty-dancin' cheerskanks?” My favorite all-American sporting team remains the Brooklyn Dodgers, which surely says more about my rankling dislike of the unavoidable fall pigskin parade than anyone would care to know. Remember the Titans, however, is less a pure football film than it is a ponderous meditation on early Sixties racial division cloaked within a high school football motif. For a more honest look at the sport of Beefy Guys, the dubious honor goes to Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday, which turns the harsh light of reality on the gridiron in its unflinching depiction of the muck that players (and everyone else) has to wade through these days to even get so much as a decent midfield seat. For a film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Gone in 60 Seconds Flat), there's remarkably little bombast in this tale of the havoc that forced integration causes the football team of Alexandria, Virginia's T.C. Williams High during the Sixties. Personally, I'd have loved to see Bruckheimer vet Nicolas Cage stomping around the field in a tatty ref's jersey, a crazed look in his eye, and maybe a bomb or a bible under his arm. Instead, we have Will Patton (co-star of Bruckheimer's Armageddon) as the marginally racist white coach who, thanks to that dang integration, suddenly finds his heretofore perfect career gutshot by newcomer Denzel Washington, who himself doesn't look any happier about the bureaucratic chain of events than Patton. It's a nice premise to start out with, this polarity of coaches, but too soon the film becomes a cavalcade of clichés, from the G.I. stylings of its commingled black and white teammates to the never-say-die, win one for the Gipper outcome. You get the feeling that the subtle nuances of racial politics on the South's high school playing fields -- certainly a fertile ground for riveting cinematic melodrama -- is being shortchanged like a blind hot dog vendor with no legs. To their credit, and viewers' relief, both Patton and Washington turn in fine performances, making the proceedings that much more bearable. The bottom line, though, is that Remember the Titans is a workmanlike production with a script -- however well-intentioned and morally sound -- that is just slightly less stale than the pretzels noshed by pre-show benchwarmers. Coming from director Yakin, who helmed 1994's superior Fresh, this is a major disappointment, lacking the earthy, 'hood-wink wisdom of that earlier feature and focusing instead on the broad and too-obvious social woes of the period. Much of this has to do with the script from newcomer Gregory Alan Howard, but even Yakin's crunchy scrimmage scenes are shot in confused close-ups. In the end, Remember the Titans falls short of both the social history lesson it so pointedly strives to impart and the sport it so roughly embraces. Once kicked, the ball deflates midway through the goal posts, and then lies there sagging for another 45 minutes.