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Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.75%
Worth A Look: 14.06%
Average: 31.25%
Pretty Bad34.38%
Total Crap: 1.56%

5 reviews, 34 user ratings

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Men of Honor
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by Erik Childress

"Apparently All Men...Are...Created Equal"
2 stars

Here’s something I wasn’t aware of. Apparently everyone who has their life story made into a movie has shared the exact same experiences with every other true-to-life character ever brought to the screen. Is this true or do filmmakers just look for any story about a guy fighting against the odds against people who think who doesn’t belong? Guys who are able to make one friend who is more enlightened or color blind, one who usually dies or is severely maimed? Guys who must fight than embrace their leader while a more powerful, one-dimensional villain holds their fate in their hand in a final courtroom battle? Men of Honor is a film that joins those ranks.

Our latest underdog seeks to gain acceptance into the Navy’s diving training program. Have no fear because Carl Brashear is here. The son of a poor sharecropper, Carl (Cuba Gooding Jr.) takes to the white man’s Navy to make his father proud. Reduced to being nothing more than a cook, we meet Carl’s future diving instructor, Billy Sunday (Robert DeNiro) disobeying the orders of his future lifelong adversary, Capt. Hanks (David Conrad), in going after the members of a downed helicopter. Sunday is then, himself, reduced to teaching the new recruits of deep sea diving bringing him face-to-face with determined Carl.

“Careful what you wish for,” he tells Brashear. I wish the film could have a better script, but this is not my movie. It’s Carl’s. And, as par for the course in these kinds of movies, no white man will bunk with a black. Except for one, Private Snowhill (Michael Rapaport). He’s colorblind and a stutterer to boot, so he knows about being an outcast, I assume. No, he doesn’t die, but he might as well as he disappears almost as quickly as he’s introduced. Thus begins the standard underdog life story treatment as Carl is ignored by one-dimensional racists. He saves a guy during a training mission, and gains a little respect, but not enough. He bests his Master Chief, gaining a little more respect, but still not enough.

At least not enough to appease Mr. Pappy (Hal Holbrook), the diving school head who spends more time in his little hut than the Unabomber. His whole purpose is to play the ultimate white devil that must tempt Sunday to keep the chains on Carl, leading to more questions as to where Sunday’s racism stems from. He doesn’t act like a racist initially and actually seems to somewhat admire the spunk of this young kid who breaks the color barrier to race Mark Spitz-style to a buoy. DeNiro calls Gooding “Cookie” so many times that I kept waiting for Bozo the Clown to show up with the Grand Prize Game. So why can’t they just get along? Because the script says its not time yet.

Even if the saccharin level is raised to gargantuan heights, the diving scenes are exciting, right? Wrong. The one thing that should be preventing people from dozing off during this long, drawn-out, leisurely-paced, been there/done that story, is the diving footage. Sorry to break the hearts of those looking for a career in diving, but apparently all the Navy divers do are reassemble machine parts on the ocean floor. The real Brashear recovered a batch of hydrogen bombs, as we see in the film, but nothing we see during the training process gives us an understanding of how any of these officers would be prepared for such a daunting task.

This is one of the too-numerous-to-count areas of the screenplay that sacrifices depth for composition. Any film labeled with the “based on a true story” stamp is bound to fictionalize or condense moments and characters for dramatic purpose, but c’mon. Showing Carl as a young boy who likes to swim is a little too simplified for a profession that isn’t about swimming. How can you in suits that weigh over 200 pounds with a giant umbilical cord attached?

Billy Sunday is a composite of a couple of Carl’s superiors. So which one had the beautiful wife (Charlize Theron) young enough to be mistaken for his daughter? Theron’s character only shows up sporadically to hate how her husband acts and then leave the scene crying. A decent speech she gives to DeNiro towards the end suggests a deeper history and deserved its day in court. It will likely appear back on the DVD in a deleted scenes section, but isn’t it too late then.

Carl’s relationship with his girlfriend/future wife is never developed beyond the getting-to-know-you and concerned stick-by-your-man phases. And was the real-life nuke recovery (only a few years after the Bay of Pigs) broadcast on live TV during the middle of a Cold War? It’s an interesting way to open a film, as a non-existent composite character watches his ex-student, all grown up, on a televised event that I would never believe be broadcast even if you told me. And why is Billy Sunday sitting there with his face beaten charged with desertion. He gets into a lot of fights, sure. A lot of fights. But when does he desert? And why? And why is allowed back in? We’re never told in what’s just another chapter in the series of disjointed movie timelines.

So many questions and so few answers in a film that amounts to nothing more than a showcase of two fine talents in DeNiro and Gooding. DeNiro’s performance doesn’t quite match his scary portrayal of a family-abusing dad in This Boy’s Life, a role that he pulled off the stratosphere of hateful characters and still managed to edge out a snag of sympathy in the end. But DeNiro (who may be the greatest actor who ever lived) makes it watchable even as we can see the script controlling his mood swings more than he can. And Gooding is equal to the game turning Carl into just the kind of hero we want to see triumph in the end.

Every other performance in the film is shortchanged. Poor Charlize Theron is wasted once again. No other member of the training corps is given any chance to develop more than a half-note character, including Rapaport. And does David Keith have to be in every movie dealing with the Navy? An Officer and a Gentleman, U-571 and now here as the officer who gets to look concerned as Carl is dragged by a Russian submarine.

Perhaps my cynicism flows more freely than a Democrat in Florida, but I can forgive thin characterizations and a by-the-numbers plot if the film affects me in some way. Remember the Titans is a perfect example of a film that used its audience-pleasing “true” football story as a metaphor for creating characters in various shades of gray on both sides of the color fence. Men of Honor is full of the kind of uplifting underdog syndrome that audiences not expecting much tend to applaud out of a knee-jerk response to their sweet tooth. But shouldn’t we be getting more than just the parsley? Where’s the meat and potatoes in-between the tasty dessert? This film is on such a collision course with a screenplay 100 class (it hasn’t quite graduated to 101 yet) that I kept expecting the little kids from Patch Adams to show up in the final courtroom scene with their red clown noses. Filmmakers in Hollywood have continually been accused of being too liberal and unaware of the true hardships that real people in the world experience on a daily basis. That may be an arguable point, but with the way screenwriters and directors continue to churn out standard, predictable messes like Men of Honor, the movies may be the only place you can go that puts forth the idea that all men are created equal.

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originally posted: 11/10/00 18:21:45
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User Comments

1/19/19 Dan This is the worst review I have ever read. Maybe you should go chat with some real ND's 4 stars
12/22/14 brian pardoe Ridicuolous review you've given. Inspired by a true story - it doesn't need novelty 5 stars
11/12/09 cuba gooding jr my fav movie of all time 5 stars
11/02/09 tinr29 nice but its too melodramatic 2 stars
10/13/08 Shaun Wallner Awesome story! 5 stars
9/30/06 Tamara D. Leonard Awesome movie. One of my favorites. I can watch it over and over, never tiring of it. 5 stars
8/18/05 ES boring, uninspired blah, two hours I want back 2 stars
8/03/05 rosalyn its was so nice movie 4 stars
5/22/05 Elizabeth should Talk about hate 3 stars
4/06/05 Ronin A good movie indeed 4 stars
10/14/04 sidhant petwal its a movie which inspires to be the best, to give the best in you and never give up 4 stars
8/25/04 Collins Shiri It is worth watching over and over again. The viewer gets emotionally involved to a large e 5 stars
4/21/04 Kayla Walkom This was an awesome movie. The first time that I watched it it blew me away. 5 stars
4/20/04 raquel i thought this movie was a great movie and shows that if u work hard u can acheive anything 5 stars
10/13/03 John Bale Predictable well worn territory not saved by hard working actors. 3 stars
8/08/03 Sylvanna It wa a great film. 5 stars
8/05/03 Andrew Minor Minor Flaws, Brillant film 5 stars
7/03/03 R.W. Welch Obviously hyped for dramatic effect but a basically a strong story. A bit strung strong out 3 stars
6/10/03 Jack Bourbon I couldn't believe I was renting it. I was shocked to actually enjoy it. 4 stars
3/04/03 Jack Sommersby Unexpectedly winning and touching. The two stars really shine here. 4 stars
2/18/03 Joesco Forget the cynics - Brashear is a hero and De Niro & Gooding are brilliant 5 stars
12/21/02 palaboy101 triumph in the face of adversity 5 stars
12/16/02 Panu Peiponen pretty awesome 5 stars
1/08/02 Andrew Carden Tries To Be As Serious As Meant To Be, but Fails. 2 stars
11/27/01 malcolm a bit melodramatic but very good. an emotional film. 4 stars
11/14/01 phil m. afficiando Comic book version of what was a compelling story in real life; too much baloney. 3 stars
4/21/01 Monday Morning If it wasn't a true story I'd think it was too hokey...but hell, let's be nice for once. 4 stars
12/14/00 Jules Predictable, but moderately entertaining. 3 stars
12/10/00 vessejoigt Good flick 4 stars
11/21/00 Tdis72 Not as bad as I thought it was gonna be, but not great either! 3 stars
11/13/00 poetchuck No cliches left for any other film to use this season 2 stars
11/12/00 Jojo The Idiot Circus Boy I've seen one legged porn with more plot then this. 1 stars
11/12/00 kohawk ending of movie was a wanna-be Scent of a Woman.Pretty crappy? pretty corny. 3 stars
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  10-Nov-2000 (R)


  22-Feb-2001 (M)

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