A Long Bomb
Bruckheimer's football movie can't make it in the red zone
By Rob Bricken

One can tell a lot about Remember the Titans just from the music.

Whenever a scene smells slightly of drama, the music swells with near-sobbing poignancy.

There are well over two dozen such heart-tugging moments as characters have total emotional turnarounds during the course of the nearly two hour movie. The first occurs at four minutes into the film. The second at six minutes. Spiritual revelations come more frequently than the actual football.

Only producer Jerry Bruckheimer could be so heavy-handed in resolving his characters' emotional turmoil.

It shouldn't be surprising. The producer and scourge of cinema is best known for his astoundingly dumb The Rock, Armageddon and Coyote Ugly. True to form, he makes every conflict abundantly obvious, an emotional ordeal to solve. And when at last it is resolved, he puts the same orchestration as in his other films to let the audience know they should have tears in their eyes.

Working his special kind of magic on Remember the Titans, one is surprised it's not more insipid.

Credit must be given to Denzel Washington who, through his superior talents, makes coach Herman Boone a three-dimensional character despite the terrible screenplay. Director Boaz Yakin (of Fresh fame) manages to squeeze a few decent moments despite Bruckheimer's insistence not to let any scene or characterization last more than 60 seconds.

The story itself is not the problem. In 1971, Coach Herman Boone led the newly integrated T.C. Williams high school football team, the Titans, to the state football championship (if you didn't know this was the result you're lying to yourself). Boone not only overcame the regular sports odds, but also resentment in the Virginia town because of his race and the opposition against integration. However, Boone and the Titans persevered and became leaders of racial harmony uniting the entire town in love and peace.

A lovely story - and supposedly true - if a bit clichéd:

The crappy sports team that came together under strong leadership to beat insurmountable odds and win it all. With the delicate problem of race in the way, the black and white kids of the Titans hate each other, are ordered to be nice to each other, and through football, win over the entire town.

Maybe it's true as portrayed. Sure seems dumb on screen.

Not because of the subject matter, but the way it's handled. Bruckheimer moves from extreme to extreme, confident the audience will assume development has occurred off-screen.

The townspeople, for instance, simply appear early in the film as hating Washington until the final game where they love him and embrace their African-American brothers.

Of the four games shown, each opposing team is not only an obstacle but actively evil - in case you weren't quite sure of the outcome that should be preferred. Defeating such teams requires some sort of handy emotional turnaround, a standard character enlightenment that solves the problem, or one good speech by Washington complete with swelling orchestration.

If one's not insulted by this most basic of plots and plot devices, it's not a bad flick.

Humor bits appear like clockwork - whenever the Bruckheimer formula demands the sad bits be lightened up - and they are reasonably funny given the schmaltzy nature of the film.

Of course, this goes too far as well, to the point where a seriously injured player evidences no problem with his permanent disability in order to keep the audience from feeling down.

Bruckheimer's 30 second scenes keep everything at a brisk pace. Best of all, Remember the Titans clocks in at under two hours, making it by default Bruckheimer's best work yet.

Remember the Titans has a good message, pounded home by the most infantile of productions. To believe that racial tension was solved so completely by a 1971 football team seems far-fetched, and the bold, absolute colors of the film assuredly belittles the entire situation.

Thanks to the Titans, Alexandria, Virginia becomes a quaint, happy land, where everyone gets enlightened and happy and clouds are made of cupcakes and Denzel Washington gets to ride Yoshi to the Mushroom Kingdom every day.

Which may have made a better movie.