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Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Lara punches a shark, rides a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China, and dives off a skyscraper —Matt Anderson (review...)

Jolie fits nicely into Lara Croft's boots

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A few key facts about Glory Road will probably tell you all you need to know. It’s a sports movie; it’s largely about race — the protagonists are the first all-black college basketbal team to win an NCAA title; and it’s produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.

Attack of the Clones

Lucas and Luke butt heads on the court
Lucas and Luke butt heads on the court

The movie’s biggest failure is its lack of originality. The rules of the sports-film genre have solidified so densely that not even light can escape. Every sports-movie cliche in the book is worked into Glory Road, and it’s almost as if the movie doesn’t even want to try anything original.

Shallowness is another real problem. If Glory Road can be said to have a message, it’s no more than “racism is bad.” There are so many characters that very few of them get to shine through and earn our empathy. And the soundtrack, prominently featuring ’60s soul artists, is incessant, loud, and gratuitous.

Director James Gartner, who has a long career in commercials, is mostly up to the task of directing his first feature, but a few problems are apparent. The basketball cinematography leaves a little to be desired. “The Iowa game” is mostly shot in close-up, so we never have a good sense of what’s happening on the court. And many of Texas Western’s games are included in the movie, but not integrated into the story. Quick montages of shots and rebounds tell us that games were happening, but they do nothing to advance the story.

Fine Piece of Entertainment

But aside from those (admittedly serious) complaints, Glory Road is a fine piece of entertainment.

To start with, the pacing is outstanding. The movie dashes right along, managing to avoid any slow, “going-out-for-popcorn” moments in the middle. By the time it’s over, you’re practically ready for more. (In fact, the filmmakers give you more; they include interviews with the real people portrayed in the film over the end credits.)

The race issue, though simplistic, is emotionally satisfying in that over-the-top, triumphant, Bruckheimer way. It would be easy for a cynic to attack a movie as lightweight as this on its handling of the race issue. But Glory Road stays frank. There were times when I felt the story laid the racism on a little thick, but on reflection, Glory Road probably gives a fair portrayal of how America-at-large felt forty years ago.

Character actor Josh Lucas steals the movie as coach Don Haskins. He’s actually the central character, so perhaps it’s not really theft. Lucas has the twang of Matthew McConnaughey, if not the wild-haired charm. As Haskins, he’s motivated, determined, colorblind, smart, and a hardass. He plays the sports-movie cliche of a coach to a T, but he never plays it as a two-dimensional stereotype.

Conclusion

Whether you enjoy Jerry Bruckheimer films probably says a lot about your personality, and it probably has a lot to do with whether you’ll like Glory Road. Since there are no surprises here, you’re sure to know before buying that ticket whether you’re going to be entertained or be sorry. I was a lot of the first and only a little of the last.