Knights of the South Bronx (2005)

I'm always up for a "stand up and cheer" film, and Knights of the South Bronx is a gem. It features veteran Ted Danson, and Keke Palmer.

The story is somewhat formulaic I can fully admit, not unlike Freedom Writers, Take the Lead or The Ron Clark Story. You know, bunch of troubled youths in the inner city Bronx at the local school. An eager teacher shows up, in Danson portraying Richard, an out of work exec who is substitute teaching for some cash to keep his family in the manner to which they've grown accustomed. The key is that Richard is this closet chess champ that the kids discover when he plays fourteen games simultaneously in an exhibition and wins them all at the local park.

You can probably guess the rest. The kids learn that chess can be a great equalizer, in that it's only based on intellect, and not that they're poor or minorities, or anything else. While the kids focus on chess playing, at least they're focusing on something, and their math and reading scores follow, although the school's principal, and plenty of the parents don't quite get it.

Before we can say "checkmate," the children decide to compete in a local tournament. While they initially get mopped on the board, soon they have some success under the tutelage of their teacher (even though most of the other schools have dedicated chess coaches). This all leads to the national chess tournament where... I won't tell you, but you can probably guess who comes home with the trophy. It is based on a true story.
Knights of the South Bronx did hold my attention, and I did enjoy the film. I was particularly intrigued by Darwin, a five year old that got stuck learning chess because his kindergarten class ended early and would go to his sister's class because no one else was at home.

It was particularly touching at the end when they showed the number of children that had graduated, and moved on to colleges (some went to my alma mater), much of which could be attributed to their involvement with chess. That school's trophy case was stuffed! Perhaps I just have a soft spot for this type of film because back in third grade, I had a teacher that was really into chess, and had the whole class playing, but then again, he was a bit progressive as he would put on magic shows, and showed film strips (remember those?) about Bigfoot, UFO's and the Loch Ness monster. This experience made the next grade all the more painful when the most progressive thing we did was to look up words in a dictionary, and even with the largest one they sold at Waldenbooks, I still couldn't find half of them! Anyway, if you want a little inspiration, then Knights of the South Bronx is worth seeking out.

Overall Grade: B+

Reviewed by Jonas

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