Rob Brown (left) doesn’t fumble his big breakout role.
THE EXPRESS (Gary Fleder). 100 minutes. Opens Friday (October 10). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNN
The most memorable thing about 2000's largely forgettable Finding Forrester was Sean Connery barking, "You're the man now, dawg!" The second most memorable thing was the strong performance of first-time actor Rob Brown as the film's teen writing prodigy.
Brown proves it wasn't beginner's luck with The Express, based on the life of Ernie Davis, the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy, college football's top individual honour, back in 1961.
As weepy sports inspirationals go, it covers all the bases quite well. The speedy phenom (nicknamed The Express) overcomes poverty and racism on and off the field to lead his team to the Cotton Bowl under the guidance of a tough but understanding coach (Dennis Quaid at his gruff and growly best). The plot sticks to the playbook, so there are plenty of clichés, but they're handled with such a light touch by director Gary Fleder that you easily forgive them.
Just as the football elements ring true, so does the handling of Davis's later life, which evokes Pride Of The Yankees and Brian's Song without tugging too hard on the heartstrings. Mostly, though, it's Brown who makes this memorable, with his easy natural charisma and definite leading-man qualities.