Remember The Titans
For some time, Denzel Washington has seemed on the verge of creating his own class of films, screamingly mediocre exercises with only a great lead performance from Washington to recommend them. It's a trend that reached its probable apotheosis with last year's The Hurricane, an earnest, manipulative true-life drama that addressed racial issues in the safest way possible and was held together only by Washington's compelling lead. Don't expect much of a change of pace from Remember The Titans, an earnest, manipulative, and safe—but undeniably preferable—true-life drama about integration in early-'70s Alexandria, Virginia, and its effects on the high-school football scene. After replacing beloved veteran Will Patton as head coach, Washington faces an uphill battle against the forces of separatism both within and outside of his team. Through quasi-military tactics and high-volume speechifying, Washington turns antagonism into teamwork against the expectations of all concerned. Director Boaz Yakin's remarkable debut Fresh succeeded in large part thanks to the director's disdain for formula; here, he follows formulas for sports films and racial dramas with the fervency of a convert. Yakin allows each member of his narrowly defined (but well-acted) ragtag group a moment in the spotlight and cues every clockwork-like big moment to what seems like every period hit, from The Temptations to James Taylor. The end result is equal parts affecting and embarrassing, with well-intentioned calls for unity that would have looked a little too simplistic even in 1971, but their earnestness sells them anyway. Washington's performance does much the same thing: By the 10th sternly delivered unity-is-power monologue, his words would mean nothing if his eyes didn't say he wasn't fooling around. (Still, a few scenes with sub-Hallie Eisenberg child star Hayden Panettiere come close to undermining his work.) A cornball fairy tale of racial unity, Titans aims squarely to please. It does, up to a point and in the most predictable way possible, but it's that quality that allows it to succeed within its firmly established, far-too-restrictive boundaries.