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In 1971, T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., was integrated, and the usual ugly protests ensued. Perhaps the bitterest blow to the school's racist spirit was that its popular football coach, Bill Yoast (Will Patton), was demoted to defensive coordinator and replaced by a black man, Herman Boone (Denzel Washington). How Boone, a tough-love sort of guy, got his racially mixed team playing so well that it went on to an undefeated season and the state championship is the substance of Remember the Titans.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer says the screenwriter, Gregory Allen Howard, first heard this story in a Virginia barbershop many years after the Titans' famous victories and instantly decided that latter-day America needed to contemplate it. The producer, who is normally associated with high-tech action movies, is inordinately proud of the result, despite the bruising direction of Boaz Yakin. Bruckheimer seems to think they've made an art film.

The film's heart is surely in the right place, though it's hard to think how you could misplace its ticker and still have a releasable movie. In its way, it beats solidly too, following the rhythms of well-established cliches. First the team is ridden with mutual prejudice; then it starts to pull together. The two coaches' relationship is first gnarly, then affectionate. There's a goofy kid who learns to play, a star who is grievously yet inspirationally hurt in an accident and, of course, a kid who comes off the bench to help win the big game. Maybe it's all true. But one is always a little discomfited when life, or a movie, imitates weary melodramatic patterns this slavishly.