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Remember the Titans   B-

Walt Disney Pictures

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Boaz Yakin
Writer: Gregory Allen Howard
Cast: Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Donald Faison, Wood Harris, Ryan Hurst, Ethan Suplee, Craig Kirkwood.

Review by Rob Vaux

With a producer like Jerry Bruckheimer at the helm, you expect the bar to be dropped a bit for Remember the Titans. He's a cinematic hot-dog vender, making safe, homogenized entertainment that feels good going down, but never lingers for more than a microsecond. Here, he teams up with another peddler of mediocrity, Walt Disney Pictures, to create a combination sports story/racial drama that should by all accounts wallow hopelessly in cliché. Amazingly, however, Remember the Titans manages to rise above its warm fuzzy confines to deliver something resembling an entertaining flick.

Make no mistake: the schmaltz is dished out in double scoops here. With the irresistible stereotypes of both football movies and civil rights dramas to chose from, director Boaz Yakin buries himself up to the chin with the story of a Virginia high school football team forced to deal with racial integration in the early 1970s. We've got the usual gaggle of outsiders trying out for the team, the predictable montages of training and practice, and the quietly smug Southern racists who want Our Heroes to fail. Remember the Titans approaches these hoary old chestnuts with an earnestness that Kevin Costner would envy. Could a rag-tag group of football misfits manage to put their differences aside in time to win the big game? Bet you'll never guess.

While none of the material is new, however, Yakin has enough talent to make it engaging. The catalyst of the story is Coach Boone (Denzel Washington), a black coach brought in to replace the beloved (white) Coach Yoast (Will Patton), who is forced to take an assistant position beneath him. The drama centers around the two men's efforts to forge a hostile mix of black and white players into a coherent team while enduring considerable pressure from the still-bigoted community around them. Yakin paces things well, manufacturing interest in a story that we already know the outcome to. He's assembled an engaging ensemble of actors who are fun to watch, despite falling into predictable stereotypes. Washington, for example, doesn't have much to work with here and plays Boone like every other drill-sergeant football coach you've ever seen. But he has so much raw charisma that you end up enjoying the performance despite the obviously thin character. Patton has a bit more meat as the easy-going (and non-racist) Yoast forced into an incendiary position which severely challenges his path-of-least resistance philosophy. Beneath them are a group of stock roles -- including the overconfident running back, the hippie-outsider quarterback, and Yoast's predictably precocious nine-year-old daughter -- who come across with such warmth that we find ourselves forgetting how by-the-numbers they really are.

That, perhaps is the secret to Remember the Titans' modest success. It stays warm and friendly. It never pushes things harder than it should, never bites off more than it can chew. The material here won't make anyone forget Do the Right Thing, but it clearly doesn't want to. It eschews pompous speeches and self-righteous moralizing, and instead allows the feel-good "racism is bad" message to quietly percolate behind the scenes. As fluffy as the sentiment is, it's still a good one, and Remember the Titans should be credited for not pounding it into the ground. The remainder of the film coasts along with soda-pop fizziness, delivering an equitable amount of humor and drama without undoing the central theme.

Have no doubts: this is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination. Washington has been far better and Yakin presumably has enough talent to make real films. But its cheerful competence never fails to engage and while it doesn't entirely capitalize on its homogenized premise, it avoids embarrassing itself by reaching too far. Considering the studio it came from -- and considering the producer above the credits -- that means a lot. You may not remember Remember the Titans, but at least you won't regret going to see it.

Review published 10.06.2000.

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