Glory Road

(2006) ** Pg-13
106 min. Buena Vista Pictures. Director: James Gartner. Cast: Josh Lucas, Derek Luke, Austin Nichols, Evan Jones, Mehcad Brooks.

With the restless editing and relentless pop music that are producer Jerry Bruckheimer's stocks-in-trade, the pompously titled Glory Road sort of tells the story of the integrated 1966 Texas Western Miners, who faced off against the all-white University of Kentucky Wildcats for the NCAA championship. When coach Don Haskins sent out five African-American starters to face off against an all-white Wildcat team, barriers were broken, but Glory Road just hits the wall.

The screenplay by Christopher Cleveland and Bettina Gilois takes dramatic license in the process of lionizing Haskins (Josh Lucas). Omitting five inconvenient years and other important figures in the integration of Texas Western, first-time feature director James Gantner submits to the Bruckheimer streamline and allows controversial rival coach Adolph Rupp, played with a putty nose by Jon Voight, to come off as a one-note villain. The choices are arguably necessary to give the story dramatic shape, but one can't help but feel Glory Road lacks genuine humanity.

Lucas and his team (including Derek Luke, Schin A. S. Kerr, and Al Shearer) are as credible as the script allows, but Gantner fails to conjure the illusion of life. It's all strictly by-the-numbers: coach fretting to dutiful wife (Emily Deschanel), integrated players initially failing to gel (Haskins spells out what anyone can see: "They've only got themselves to blame. They didn't play together..."), and the Big Game ("the greatest upset in NCAA history!"). Lessons are dutifully learned, of discipline, race relations, and the importance of a truce between the black players' "game" and Haskins' "game."

Character nuances would have gone a long way to bridge the river of familiarity, but Cleveland and Gilois settle for cliches ("My old man," says one player, "thinks basketball is a waste of time. I think different"). The filmmakers attempt to excuse Glory Road's shortcomings by backloading "where are they now?" details and entertaining, real talking-head interviews into the end-credit roll, but this important story in sports history deserves better than a hackneyed, half-true docudrama that smothers its essential truths under modern showmanship. Quoth Don Haskins: "Are you kidding me?!"

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