Men Of Honor knows exactly what it wants to be: proudly and profoundly inspirational. It's there in the poster of Cuba Gooding Jr gazing out with steely nobility. It's present in the first bars of the score, ripped straight from the How To of stirring orchestral soundtracks. This is the sort of film that polishes every standby of the Spirited Individual Bucks The System genre until they shine - but polishes too hard, rendering them see-through.
Which is a shame, as Brashear's story is one that deserved to be told without being shoved through the cinematic wringer until every last drop of patriotic juice was squeezed from it. Gooding Jr is effortlessly appealing as Brashear and you'll root for him to succeed; but it's a pity that the film falls over itself to play up just how much of a hero he was. He wins out over a racist military, horrific injury (first clichéd words on waking up in hospital: ""Can I still dive?"") and marital problems...
All true, but every event is portrayed in such an overwrought fashion it's no wonder that people start chuckling at the clunky speeches (does any-one outside of films come up with spontaneous diatribes on the subject of honour?), unoriginal character moments (silent nods between players during difficult scenes) and a cheese-flavoured courtroom conclusion. By the time the final (inspirational) song plays over the end credits you won't be worrying about how well Brashear can dive - - you'll be convinced he can walk on water.
As for De Niro, well, he can play this sort of troubled maverick role in his sleep - which goes some way to explaining why so much of Sunday's initial racist bluster and his unsurprising transformation into a mentor figure is so unconvincing. For De Niro's not really there: he's astral-projecting his performance from home.
Men Of Honor is all very noble, but sinks under its own grandiose weight, while any lump in your throat will most likely be dislodged by guffaws. Give it a try if you're really that desperate for a burst of good ol' American triumph over adversity. Otherwise, this remains distinctly un-see-worthy.
Like its real-life subject, Men Of Honor works hard towards its goals. And like Brashear, it sinks to new depths - but of clichéd dramatics. You'll want to cheer for the hero, but you'll end up giggling at the cheesy chat and cheesier situations.