Men Of Honor

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Men Of Honor

A movie as earnest and well-intentioned as Men Of Honor challenges viewers not to like it at the risk of not liking themselves. After all, what kind of person could fail to find inspiration in the true story of a courageous sailor of humble origins (Cuba Gooding Jr.) who takes a stand against institutional racism and courts danger by attempting to become the Navy's first black deep-sea rescue diver? The answer: anyone seeking a movie with subtlety, nuance, three-dimensional characters, or pacing. Appealing before he won an Oscar and virtually insufferable ever since, Gooding plays not so much a character as a bundle of nobility and courage who occasionally pauses from his travails to deliver speeches through clenched teeth. Standing in the way of his goals is Robert De Niro, a hell-raising, hard-drinking racist Southerner impressed with Gooding's commitment but obligated by the expectations of a crazed officer (Hal Holbrook) and his own prejudice to keep Gooding in place. Playing a role only slightly more complex than Rocky And Bullwinkle's Fearless Leader and following a character arc as overdetermined as that of the Grinch, De Niro looks desperate to stretch out, but director George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food) plays it safe at every turn. By the time Gooding faces his umpteenth seemingly impossible challenge, his robotic stick-to-it-iveness has grown wearisome, as has Honor's cotton-candy uplift, which dissolves before it can be digested.

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