Denzel Washington plays a high school football coach in 1970s Alexandria, Virginia. Washington is given the head coaching job in the middle of the integration wars. Making matters worse, he replaces Will Patton, the soft-spoken former coach, who responds with a bruised ego but a determination to stay on as an assistant coach for “his boys.” There are racial tensions between Washington and Patton and between the now integrated high school football team.
No worries, though. All those tensions are erased by group sings, group hugs, group showers, the iron-fist of the strict Washington, and the velvet touch of the gentle Patton.
“THIS IS A VALUABLE TEACHING MOMENT, SON.”
The lessons are fired into your brain with the subtlety of a nail gun, and the cliches pile up quicker than you can say After School Special.
The black players can sing and dance, and they soon turn those slow-footed white boys into singers and dancers.
The black defensive captain is angry and he lacks the concept of team, so the white defensive captain shows him what teamwork really means.
Washington is a “My way or the highway” kind of guy, yet Patton shows him that improvising and being receptive to new ideas can make him a better coach.
Patton is too gentle on the black players, a repressed form of condescension, so Washington points this out, and dag gummit, Patton learns to be tough.
Oh, and for the most part, the story is a concoction churned out by the Hollywood folks who gave you the slow clap, “don’t you die on me!” and racial healing via dancing to Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.
As for what one would hope could be a saving grace in a sports picture, the football is laughably inauthentic. Altman filmed better sports footage in M*A*S*H.
If your intelligence isn’t insulted, as the screenwriter might observe, “Houston, we have a problem.”