Because the makers of "Remember the Titans" have their hearts in the right place, it's easy to forgive them for overstating their message.
The movie's somewhat cloying story runs a familiar pattern, but that sense of deja vu may be due to the fact that screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard is recounting an actual 1971 football season at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va.
As portrayed in the film, the school is forced to integrate white and black students for the first time, generating vehement objections from white parents in the process. The school board potentially aggravates the situation by hiring a black football coach named Herman Boone (Denzel Washington).
Through the board's political maneuvering, Boone finds himself not only joining a staff that doesn't want him but also usurping the school's talented white head coach, Bill Yoast (Will Patton). Yoast becomes understandably upset about being demoted to running the defensive squad and threatens to quit. His loyalty to his players and the volatile situation at the school makes him change his mind.
Coach Yoast's decision reaps unexpected benefits. Gradually, the two men learn to work together. Boone proves to be a great motivator, but he's also a ferocious martinet whose practices resemble boot camp. Yoast, however, is more easygoing and supplies clever strategies.
The two forge an uneasy but effective partnership that rubs off on their players. While the rest of the school is poised to riot, the football players slowly become a tight and potent unit. For the sake of the coaches, this is essential because Boone, who has a wife and two children, could lose his job if the Titans lose a single game.
Since the stakes are ultimately greater than merely winning or losing games, "Remember the Titans" remains involving even if the storyline progresses in an obvious manner. It doesn't hurt that the reliable Washington has one of his meatier roles.
Watching Boone tear into slacking players is a terrifying experience, and he walks a fine line between being a disciplinarian and a sadist. Washington displays a sensitive but commanding presence that allows him to explore the downside of Boone's drive to win without alienating the audience.
Director Boaz Yakin ("A Price Above Rubies") coaxes similarly strong work from the rest of the cast. In his debut film "Fresh," he demonstrated a remarkable adeptness with child performers, and this time he reveals a knack with the relative unknowns who populate the team.
In addition, the underrated Patton imbues Yoast with a quiet dignity. This is a sharp contrast from the homicidal bureaucrat he played in "No Way Out."
Yakin relies too much on a stale oldies-saturated soundtrack, and some of the scenes involving Yoast and Boone's children are a little too cute to be credible. Still, the movie is a pleasant step forward for producer Jerry Bruckheimer, whose latest offerings have been dopey, anemic action flicks such as "Gone in 60 Seconds."
"Remember the Titans" is not groundbreaking, but it is a convincing and engaging look at how prejudices can be replaced by hope.