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Although based on a true story, "Pride" sticks so close to the inspirational sports drama playbook that it misses the very thing that makes real-life sports so thrilling: the unpredictability. Fortunately, the film has a secret weapon in Oscar nominee Terrence Howard ("Hustle & Flow"), an actor who has built a career on the ability to surprise audiences with each role.

Howard stars as Jim Ellis, a former swimmer turned teacher who has difficulties finding a suitable job in the early 1970s and decides to start a swim program at the Philadelphia Department of Recreation. He wins over the skeptical custodian (Bernie Mac) and a local city councilwoman (Kimberly Elise, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman") by inspiring dedication in a group of directionless kids.

Since nothing unexpected happens in "Pride," it's a relief to have an offbeat actor like Howard in the lead role. The film doesn't provide much background information about Ellis, other than a brief opening sequence in which he deals with racism as a younger man, but Howard creates a compelling central figure. He doesn't overplay Ellis' nobility and builds a winning rapport with the kids.

Mac offers excellent support and finds sly humor in a role that allows him to play a character, not a clown. One of Hollywood's finest, but most underused African-American actresses, Elise makes a fine love interest, though her character feels like an afterthought.

Zimbabwean director Sunu Gonera has a firm grasp of the technical elements in his feature film debut, ensuring that the well-paced movie looks and sounds good. The soundtrack overflows with familiar soul hits of the '70s, each matched to an appropriate emotional moment.

It's just too bad there's not much here—besides Howard's performance—that hasn't been captured on film so many times before.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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EntertainmentSportsMoviesCelebritiesDrama (genre)Film FestivalsBernie Mac