On the surface, this football saga is the kind of well-intentioned, racial drama for which Spike Lee seems to be yearning. Down deep, though, Remember the Titans is distressingly shallow. Based on a true story — in Hollywood-speak that means there's some truth in it — the film recounts the forced integration of Virginia's T.C. Williams High School in 1971 and the conflict that ensues when Herman Boone (Denzel Washington), a black coach from North Carolina, is brought in to lead the football team ahead of local white coach Bill Yoast (Will Patton), who agrees to serve as Boone's assistant. The coaches lock horns, ditto the team members, until nearly everyone learns to work and live together.
Washington, a fine, no-bull actor, took a pay cut to help producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Armageddon) bring in this movie for a bargain $20 million. Washington, Patton and a cast of newcomers, including Wood Harris, Ryan Hurst and Kip Pardue, all perform solidly. But director Boaz Yakin, whose debut film, Fresh, had a tough core of intelligence, appears to have gone soft. Gregory Allen Howard's script plays like an After-School Special filled with composite characters, quick-fix emotions and corny TV sermonizing. When the hard battle for integration is served up as a feel-good package, we've all been bamboozled.