- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2000

''Remember the Titans" brims with benign intentions and simplistic approaches while extolling the championship season of 1971 at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va. Not that the production found it convenient or inspirational to derive any pictorial authenticity from the actual location; the movie, a Jerry Bruckheimer production for Disney, was shot with admiring solemnity in the Atlanta area.

A highly rhetorical interlude in Gettysburg, where the suddenly integrated, racially uneasy Titans supposedly practice and bond for two weeks before the season, also must be an Atlanta simulation.

This excursion seems quite an extravagance for a public high school system. One can't help wondering which battlefields were reserved for the basketball, baseball and track teams later in that historic school year, which achieved belated integration at the secondary level by redistricting and juggling the student bodies at three city high schools, with T.C., as it's known locally, as the final destination for juniors and seniors.

The Gettysburg gambit allows Denzel Washington as Herman Boone, installed as head football coach as part of the racial compromising and horse-trading, to lead a cross-country run to hallowed ground, where he points out that team members might usefully "take a lesson from the dead."

Even those inclined to admire Coach Boone as a blunt and demanding athletic mentor not unlike the recently deposed Bob Knight of Indiana, curiously enough might consider this a heavy-handed object lesson.

It would be more amusing if he did the cemetery run as a preamble to making cuts, although no one was cut from the T.C. juggernaut perfected by Boone and defensive assistant Bill Yoast, passed over for promotion despite a decade or so of seniority at nearby Hammond High School.

In scenic terms, running the team uphill to Alexandria's Masonic Temple at sunrise might have given the filmmakers as much to conjure with as a bogus Gettysburg moment.

But why nitpick with Hollywood when it's huffing and puffing to impart trite lessons about racial harmony? As a practical matter, one should be grateful for the rare telling interlude. The best example: Mr. Washington urging Will Patton as Coach Yoast, the kinder and gentler component in the successful T.C. chemistry, to resist the tendency to protect black players who get chewed out.

Ironically, the point he makes patronizing and overprotecting the youngsters won't do them any favors seems to be lost on the filmmakers, who treat the audience as beginners and softies.

The introspective Yoast suffers most from the need to accentuate the obvious. One of his assistants and a bratty daughter, a football-crazy 9-year-old named Sheryl (Hayden Panettierre), are permitted to speak flagrantly out of turn during the first encounter with Boone.

As a result, the "nice" coach always looks incapable of enforcing a chain of command in his own interest. It's difficult to believe Mr. Howard or director Boaz Yakin ever observed coaching hierarchies or personalities at close quarters.

The initially thorny, ultimately triumphant Boone-Yoast partnership is meant to be supplemented by hard-earned rapport among sets of players, notably Wood Harris and Ryan Hurst as the real-life defensive standouts of the 1971 Titans, Julius Campbell and the late Gerry Bertier, respectively. Mr. Bertier became a sacrificial figure of veneration when seriously injured in a car crash soon after the end of the season.

The movie seems inexcusably blithe about the immediate aftermath of a spinal injury. Its absent-minded tendencies also are exemplified in the framing episodes, which bookend a flashback chronicle, supposedly narrated by the grown Sheryl Yoast.

The picture begins with a funeral procession, evidently in Bertier's honor, but the occasion is never adequately clarified or concluded at the fade-out, squandering the pathos generated by his accident.

Because Miss Yoast also died young, the filmmakers may be confusing her premature but unacknowledged demise with Gerry Bertier's.

The most annoying of the bonding subplots coyly contrives an opposites-attract situation between football tomboy Sheryl and Boone's daughter Nicky (Krysten Leigh Jones), portrayed as exceedingly prim and ladylike for comic contrast.

One of the genuinely promising sidelights the filmmakers overlook is that both coaches had all-girl broods (three daughters for Mr. Boone and four for Mr. Yoast) while professionally preoccupied with inspiring and instructing young men.

One and 1/2 out of four stars

TITLE: "Remember the Titans"

RATING: PG (Fleeting profanity and racial animosity; fleeting graphic violence in the context of high school football games; a serious injury is ascribed to one character)

CREDITS: Directed by Boaz Yakin

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes

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